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: Artifact

My mother-in-law has been giving some thought to what she might like to take with her when she moves one last time. When I asked her which of her keepsakes were most important to her she said immediately, “My pictures!” I could relate to that sentiment since I have been in charge of family photography. Recently I digitalized all of that wealth so that my next move will be easier.

The task of cleaning out storage lockers, cupboards, closets, attics or sheds can be onerous and honouring. Through the layers of dust, artifacts of a personal nature are revealed. Letters and journals can be examined to make a time stamp, like rings on a tree stump, showing what was going on in our past, in times passed. Sorting comes easy when items literally break apart in your hands. Things that someone once thought might retain value, are not even yard sale worthy. Then again the adage,’One man’s junk is another man’s treasure’ continues to contain a nugget of truth.

I met up with a fellow who ran a New Immigrant Fellowship based around learning how to use a bicycle. My in-laws created a new memory for themselves by donating the wheels they had used when they were still able to peddle. In my job as cleaner/sorter in this downsizing adventure it is helpful to work with someone who sees value in letting go. I believe some of our curios are meant to make someone else smile. Clothes can be laundered and given away. Garden tools can be offered up to create new gardens of earthly delights.

My special mom has treasures from her daughter and grandkids that help her remember things hard to recapture. She wants to pass on family heirlooms. She has a pottery figurine she likes to have right next to her bed. It’s curious what each of us counts as treasure. I used to wonder what my birth mother was thinking as she stroked an old deckle edged Kodak black&white photograph. It was one taken of her sister, its corners now softened to the consistency of linen.

What we keep may be ‘art-in-fact’. Respect must be shown to the original owner of the relic. Museums around the world are coming to terms with this truth; that their cultural artifacts (some involving human remains) may have been procured under false pretences. Governments are seeking to rectify and reconcile with Indigenous People who have had their heritage put on display. Justice for these situations may be found through repatriation; a giving back of what was not ours to begin with.

I can’t imagine what I might leave behind as an artifact. I’ve already discarded things I once thought useful but no longer found important enough to shelve or even seal in a box. I can be very sentimental when exposed to an idea. I can cry when I see an artist earnestly creating. Generally though, old things are just curiosities to me. I’m an old thing after all, and pretty curious to boot.

Re: Heart

My heart skipped a beat the other day. In fact it skipped several beats, enough to make me wonder what was going on. My son-in-law just happened to be stopping by for lunch so I asked him to take me to the hospital instead.

It was the prudent thing to do. Heart disease claims more lives in Canada than any other illness. I had been having heart palpitations (what I called kittens chasing each other in my chest) with some regularity for the past several months. My wife and I had agreed that, ‘the next incident’ would be the one where I would go to emerg. I considered my father, who died while on holiday in Portugal due to his heart health issues. He was only seven years older than I am right now. Memento mori.

My son is thirty years younger than I am. He and his wife have just bought their first house. After the move they enjoyed reporting a heartfelt sense of permanence, saying the decision was a “coup de coeur” experience. News of their combined joy pulled at my heart strings as though a song of love and longing had just arrived after a commercial break. A song such as this favourite of mine by Tony Bennett. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6DUwMnDxEs

There are many songs written from the heart. Some popped into my head as I waited for a doctor upon entering the hospital’s emergency department. It was a large open area room akin to a Costco warehouse. Direction arrows were taped to the concrete floor, clerks stood at their posts. Instead of food samples or coupons I answered questions and was directed to a succession of stations where I was tested and questioned further. I got labelled then someone came with a wheelchair to take me through the final portal. Here, in a small room, I was told to lay on a bed around which gathered no fewer than seven medics. They stopped my heart twice in an attempt to reset it from a high of 185BPM. I felt well attended to, so I wasn’t frightened.

While being monitored and tested further, I listened to the busy sounds of the ER setting. I contemplated the news cycle since late 2019 of Covid calls to action in hospitals around the world. Many unrelated deaths occurred because folks like me were resisting going for medical attention for other ailments, like the atrial fibrillation which became my diagnosis on this day. Surprisingly my heart beat returned to normal as quickly as it had raced to my attention. Latest incident over, I have appropriate medication to forestall a similar occurrence and an appointment for a follow-up consultation with a cardiologist.

I felt gratitude that I had avoided a stroke which I was told was a potential with my condition. I was heartened to see our health care system work so well on my behalf. I’m happily feeling the beat of a consistent rhythm, giving me hope for what my future may hold.

Re: Murder

The board game called Clue invites players to find out who committed murder. The box says it is a family game for ages 8 or older. My sister sent a colour videotape version of the game to my family of three boys years ago. I had just purchased a modern VHS player but still owned an old black and white television set. Colonel Mustard was hard to identify.

Killing someone is deadly business and sometimes grotesquely profitable, yet we are fascinated by tales of murder and mayhem. I grew up watching The Three Stooges swearing they’ll murder someone, “I’ll moidelize ya!” ‘Murdelize’ comes up in old cartoons too. It was all just meant to get a laugh from a five year old, I guess.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xsch0xj7lU

During my last years of high school I chummed around with a fellow who introduced me to CO2 gas pistols. They were loaded with harmless metal pellets. We used to walk the creek in our neighbourhood aiming at signs and stray tin cans. Pop bottles were best to hit because of the shattering glass special effect. On one of these ramblings my buddy aimed at, and killed, a pigeon that he spied innocently cooing at a railway crossing. Later the next year when I was away at university I learned that he was in a bar fight, murdered a guy and went to prison.

As an adult I wonder how there are classifications for murder. Surely there isn’t a rational reason for creating a spectrum for murderous intent. It’s one of the few areas in my personal philosophy when I won’t accept a shade of grey. I guess you have to be a lawyer to understand the degrees between accidental homicide and mass murder. In between those two extremes I could put manslaughter (the strangest of terms), but where would institutional execution fit, or war even? I don’t distinguish a difference between war and murder on a massive scale. War is murder. And murder is war at the personal level.

In the U.S.of A., we read of people getting away with murder on a regular basis. From my bench it appears as if money, connections or a crack legal team can get you off from pretty much any crime. White folk seem to win their case in court a greater percentage of the time. In the city where I live there is a fellow, by my reckoning, who has got away with two murders. Both of his victims were fringe members of society. A blind eye was turned.

‘Thou shalt not kill’ is only in the middle of the list that Moses reported was important to God. Those holy tablets rank kicking a ball on Sunday as being more consequential. I bring up God since he/she is often used as justification for state sanctioned killing. Yes, I get that sometimes you must defend yourself but the whole ‘God is on our side’ is used to rationalize even Genocide!

“Why?” you may ask. Now, I haven’t got a clue.

Re: Fate

In the apartment building where I’m currently residing we learned of a fatality. The news rippled quickly regarding the circumstances of this fateful night when the living were shockingly presented with the reality of death. Rumours circulated. In the hallways, lobby and elevators, strangers with lowered heads talked to other strangers seeking solace, consolation or reassurance. Those who knew the deceased sheltered in place. Mortality strikes fear in us all.

In conversation with my mother-in-law, we shared a phrase, ‘there but for the grace of God go I’ as if to count ourselves lucky. I thought about the word Fate, all of that day and the next. I thought of the ways in which we tempt fate, by being reckless, careless or selfish. I wondered how this fit within the context of Covid vaccinations. I mused over ways we wish for things to come true and then, when they do, how we might profit from those wishes. A belief in Fate can be a form of wish making. Taken in a positive way Fate can be a nice idea, as long as you don’t mind giving up free will. Fatalists may convince themselves that Fate is on their side, at least until it’s not. Gamblers hold on to Fate’s hand, tightly.

When my first wife was dying of cancer, I never wanted her to die, yet I wished for an end to the suffering. I could never say that Fate dealt her a bad hand nor could I weaken her significance in my life by suggesting that shit happens. Sometimes the wishes we make will be granted to us in a form we hadn’t expected. Hence we have the phrase ‘be careful what you wish for’. Long ago, when my mom spoke those words I felt menaced as if she might know something I didn’t about my future. Several years ago the book ‘Secret’ popularized the notion that you could manifest your destiny. All a person needed was a vision board, or some such graphic depiction, for Fate to be firmly in your control. Fatalism tamed.

People often talk about being fated: being in the right place and at the right time. It is the most dramatic way to describe the meeting of a true love, from across a crowded room, we just happened upon each other. It was kismet. Fortune shone on us.  Love came along and tapped us on the shoulder on a beautiful starlit night. Could it be magic?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U7mugNlqtdk

Shakespeare wrote much about Fate: “Men at some time are masters of their fates.” As did the writers for the Star Wars films giving us the meme, ‘may the Force be with you’. As much as we’d like to, we cannot know what the fates will allow. Our destiny awaits, yet it is impossible to understand it as Fate, until it happens. I have wished for fame, fortune, happiness (the big three) only to discover them in smaller measure. Yet I feel as fortunate as a king.

Re: Time

There is a certain pathos with thoughts of time, especially when you realize, like I do, that you have less time left, than the time you have already lived. There are some parts of my life I return to in memory, but mostly I focus on the present. Sometimes I’ve wanted to save time in a bottle as Jim Croce once wished. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AnWWj6xOleY

I have seen Time as a friend when I have been grieving or ill and as an enemy when I have had to meet a deadline or complete a test in school. I’ve enjoyed the thrill of meeting someone at just the right time and, on another occasion, I felt the disappointment of recognizing that the timing wasn’t right for a lasting bond. I’m old enough to have experienced a change in societal culture called the ‘end of an era’. I’ve impatiently timed contractions during the birth of my sons, measuring minutes as though they were hours. I’ve learned how to use time to make the most of a bad situation. Most of the time I think I use my time wisely.

I used to be quite fanatical about man-made time. My first watch, a practical Timex with a brown leather strap, was a gift from my parents on my tenth birthday. This timepiece removed uncertainty from my day. I could plan my away time and become less reliant on others. My friends and family began to rely on my timekeeping abilities. I put my third watch in a drawer on my thirtieth birthday and haven’t worn one regularly since. As I grew older I became resentful of my timepiece, and clocks in general, since I found them a reminder of responsibility and the sadness that can come from reflecting on time passages. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCJkbrQF88A

We celebrate anniversaries and birthdays as milestones in our lives. Numbers represent years, then decades, somehow giving us a sense of personal achievement, however unwarranted. Nature wins out in the end. We only have a lifetime, which can’t be predicted on a calendar. These days I respect nature’s symbols of time more than the programmable kind. I’m close enough to an ocean to enjoy the magic of tidal rhythm. I love being aware of the seasons. I pay homage to the moon cycles and delight in the change in daylight hours marked by solstice and equinox.

I’ve come to see time as a gift rather than a goal. I chuckle now when it seems to fly by. Then I marvel when it slows to the natural rhythm of my breathing. I like seeing my lifetime as compartments: Many separate moments that have created the current me. Time can take you on a journey as vivid as a train trip. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VdQY7BusJNU

Time has wonderful healing properties that have allowed me to put events into a broader perspective. Some of my memories have faded, making it easier to make peace with loss. I’m not necessarily wiser, just a bit calmer.

Re: Soul

Long ago, a book called The Aquarian Conspiracy was gifted to me. I recalled it yesterday when someone talked of a soul connection. When I heard this term my first thought went amusingly to the bottom to my foot. Going further off on a tangent I called to mind my favourite fish dish; Breaded Sole. Solely on the basis of these diversions I’m not sure how I can get back to matters of the spirit, but I will try.

I’ll suggest that spirits float free; think ghosts. When they find a host to inhabit let’s call them souls. Some have told me how they can see an aura surrounding an individual. I don’t believe that you can use any of your five regular senses to determine a soul’s existence. But when you do sense its presence you know it. We sometimes refer to that recognition by using a word like  Soulmates if the relationship has longevity, yet even brief encounters with strangers can seem astonishingly intimate when they involve a soul connection. The soul is at once separate from the body and attached to it. It’s along for the ride: On a soul train! The soul adds to one’s personality yet doesn’t dominate it. We can’t be whole without acknowledging this aspect of our existence. I find that music tunes me in to my soul faster than anything else.

When I have recognized the soul within another person my heart has leapt. Once I stood transfixed by a harmonica playing homeless person. Babies show their soul when playing “Peek-A-Boo”. I recently had an ultrasound examination. I was cared for by a technician who had a warm professional manner. The whole event was surprisingly relaxing. I asked lots of questions and she helped calm my fears. As I was shown the way out of the office the examiner said, “It was really nice to meet you.” It was the way she said it! I felt she recognized my soul. It was an instant quite magical yet also remarkably familiar. There is a scene in the film ‘What Dreams May Come’ where we get a sense of this intangible mystery of the soul. 

I’m not a pet lover but I do enjoy other species. And I’m not embarrassed to say that I have sensed the souls within some of these animals. A while back I did some volunteering at a Therapeutic Riding Stable and I encountered one horse called Bangsy that seemed to connect with me from the first day of meeting. He watched me. He responded to me as other horses did not. He got me. I thought my soul had touched him too. When we say we have had a ‘meeting of the minds’ I suspect we really are talking about a soul connection.

So if the body is a carrier of a soul I will be ever watchful for opportunities to recognize others in this way. This spirit may have come my way before so I’ll say, “Hey!”

Re: Death

I’ve been thinking about death lately. Daily COVID19 updates will do that to a person. It isn’t the fear of death that has gotten to me, but the inevitability of it. Recently I dreamt of my childhood apartment, home to four: I walked about the small rooms.  Bedding was in a tumble, wiring was exposed. I called out for my parents and sister. I woke with a start. 

Today, I am the sole survivor. When will the grim reaper come for me, like in Ingmar Bergman’s classic film, The Seventh Seal. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NtkFei4wRjE

It’s natural to be uncomfortable with the subject of death. During my years as an elementary school counsellor I listened carefully to many children who had questions about life and death. I participated in death and dying workshops at Kings College at Western University in London, Ontario. My experience led me to offer sessions on grief with members of my United Church congregation. During an ‘Art Healing’ afternoon, one young fellow captured a positive note by making a button with his slogan, ‘Death is Interesting’.

Film producers deal with death in a variety of ways. Some confront it with a collage of blood spattered bodies, bullets flying and body count so disproportionately high that viewers soon become desensitized to dead people. Death can be treated comedically, like in this bizarre feature starring Hollywood’s leading lady of drama, Meryl Streep. 

Speaking of zombies! The undead hold a special place in the imagination of many people. I don’t share that fascination but I can appreciate the walking dead as an undying metaphor for racial discrimination. I admit to a curiosity for death whenever it has appeared in my life. I’ve witnessed several people die. I’ve only had a death wish once and luckily was clutched from the jaws of death. I’ve seen five productions of the play, Death of a Salesman and watched Dead Poet’s Society at least six times. Once, I took a death defying leap off a waterfall, diving into a small natural pool many metres below. I’ve also tempted an early demise by eating a serving of Death by Chocolate. I’ve had my share of la petite mort, a French term for orgasm, relating to the notion that climax provides a loss of consciousness equivalent to a small death.

The quote, “Nothing is certain except death and taxes.” is attributed to Ben Franklin. Death is clearly a part of life. I appreciate cultures that integrate that reality into their social observations.The Aztecs had Death Day festivals that have been continued by Mexicans and other cultures as The Day of the Dead or Día de Muertos. The belief that the departed are never really far from us is comforting. Two wonderful animated feature films that explore this healthy view of death are; The Book of Life https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCSljmwNs_U 

Coco https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_5DD9G89rI .

Death need not be something to fear.

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: 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.