Re: Free

I was born into a white British family, so I kind of had priority boarding from my very first breath. Coming from that place of privilege makes it hard for me to write about freedom because I’ve never felt unfree. There has been only a few times in my life where access has been denied. I’ve never had to struggle for my freedom. Lucky me!

My whiteness sometimes makes me feel hypocritical when I gather with others to protest. My maleness, my skin colour and my affluence have made me shy about saying, in one way or another, “Life is not equitable!” It’s a moral conundrum, yet I delight in being free to join others to speak against injustice. Just because I have it good doesn’t absolve me from defending the rights of others. I believe we have a collective responsibility to make freedom ring true for all.

Freedom isn’t limited to what you can get out of life: It’s about how you can be. I enjoyed listening to an album called ‘Free To Be’ with my kids when they were young.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_26FOHoaC78

We would sing along and talk about what made us feel free to be ourselves. The LP promoted inclusion, acceptance and compassion for others. We discussed how freedom and responsibility must be linked if we cherish being together in community. Without a mutual understanding of freedom, souls do not flourish and life can feel like a cage. Our world is literally a zoo of our own making: It can be Eden or Hell. Our current climate crisis can attest to how humans have squandered their heritage through selfishness. When our individual freedoms become exclusive to our collective interests, we risk our ultimate freedom: To live.

The strangely titled Freedom Convoy that took over the downtown streets of Ottawa in 2022 has puzzled me. The very ability to protest is an indication that we live in a free society yet these truck weaponizing individuals promoted the notion that we were giving over our freedoms by wearing Covid masks. Nightly news showed folks bathing in a hot tub on a city street, police passing by, letting them off scot-free. That was amusing, but for me, they abused their right to free speech by screaming and cursing at their fellow Canadians. Our government created an inquiry into this whole sordid event to answer questions about its use of the Emergency Measures Act. My hope is not so much for retribution on these rowdy protesters but that Justice Paul Rouleau will outline a definition of freedom that we can all file for future reference.

Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years. The society he lived in had deadly ideas about what it means to be free. The white folk of South Africa enforced the rule of birth entitlement as the key to freedom. Mr. Mandela felt differently: ”For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

Re: Real

My thoughts seemed like a Netflix fantasy series. I started a conversation with my wife one morning saying I was losing my grasp on reality while having trouble making sense of time and space. Pinch me please. Bless her heart, she looked shocked and worried for my mental health. A reset to realism was needed, and quick.

According to much of what I’ve read in the media lately, I’m not alone in feeling abstract. Faulting things, events or individuals for my discombobulation won’t help. My doubts about what is real aren’t about the stuff out there.  It’s more to do with how I’m processing the maddening array of conflicting information. To discover the truth these days I have to reevaluate almost everything I have learned so far in life. I’ve lost my trust in institutions, in the political process, in the weather even. Finding realness and holding on to it is so exhausting!

I watched with incredulity the length of the London queue to view Queen Elizabeth’s coffin. This line up couldn’t be real. What did those half million people need? Grief is real, I think. But standing in the rain, overnight, for twelve hours, surely challenges anyone’s sense of reality. The aged Children Royal stood vigil wearing military regalia similar to a toy soldier set my grandfather once bought for me from Harrods. I imagined costumes for Halloween. Is this an authentic representation of life in 2022? Such disrespectful thoughts! Death is real, I imagine.

Covid19 continues to read like an incomprehensible nonfiction novel. Illness is real, I thought. It seemed that in 2020 many governments were working in the interests of the people yet now we are sternly encouraged to get back to the business at hand; making money. This virus isn’t over and there are more variants expected. So the new normal is really the new reality.

People interviewed after a disaster sometimes say they felt like they were in a movie. They are sharing the shock of an unreal experience while the results of the flood/fire/tornado or other such climate induced mayhem is clear to see, strewn about them. If I’m deciding what’s real based on my past experience, that’s probably a mistake since cryptocurrency doesn’t seem real, Donald Trump wasn’t real, real estate prices aren’t real, reality television isn’t real and global warming is supposedly a hoax.

We are creatures of habit. We like things to be predictable. People who say, ‘embrace the change’ are likely the ones in charge. And the ones in charge don’t appear to know what they’re doing so I resist accepting their version of reality. I’m sounding unrealistic and I realize it. I’m looking for a focal point and I’m coming up lacking. Moments are real, aren’t they?

To summarize: Things aren’t the way they used to be. They never were. The unbelievable can still be real even if it seems crazy. I know I’m not imagining things when my grandchild climbs onto my lap with a big picture book. Love is real, I know that at least.

Re: Power

When I think of the word Power I hope the word Responsibility is closely following. Power is linked to energy in my thoughts; energy needs to be channeled to be an effective source of power. Uncontrolled power is dangerous; think of yourself trapped in a vehicle with a hydro line dancing on the surfaces around you. Unregulated power is a threat to life and limb. Unchecked power can evaporate entire cultures.

Some thirst for power. I used to ask people at gatherings what they most desired. The words Fame and Fortune often came up. I remember one such discussion in a university seminar when a student concluded that any 3 wishes granted by a Genie would ultimately reveal a quest for Power. If this fellow was right, that life is always about acquiring power, I wonder if it matters more what we do with the power we have collected. Our energy and influence is required if we are to flourish. Planet Earth has suffered from our search for power through extracting energy from decayed matter. This has been a conquest with end-of-days consequences. Our choices regarding power can rectify and renew.

Everyone must have authority over their personhood. This is at the core of ideas of Freedom. Yet I am also a person through other people, so I must have responsibility towards them as I do for myself. I can’t say I have ever wished for authority over another. Power over others actually frightens me. I once had a meeting with a school principal concerning what he saw in me, a beginning teacher, about my leadership qualities. I was appalled when he suggested that he first learned to exercise power over others by controlling his wife, then he felt he could extend this to his dealings with other teachers, and so eventually became a head of a school. He delivered a power point that didn’t sell me.

One unique individual can inspire. We’ve read of religious prophets, noble knights, lone western gunslingers, and inspiring artists. We don’t need to sift through history to find examples of extraordinarily gifted individuals. They are in your neighbourhood, living right now, practising their skills. All members of a community have a responsibility to share their power. Sometimes we enable others to expand their influence. We may elect them to represent us on a larger stage. We must take care who we anoint with political power, then it is up to us to remind them of their vow of service. Abuse of trust often comes when a person in authority convinces themselves and us that the end will justify the means. Tragedy, of the individual and societal sort, often follows.

It’s never easy judging when to step aside, when to chime in, when to take charge or when to turn your back. My greatest rewards have been from empowering others to achieve their goals. Working with shared agency is an energizing experience. Being involved means hooking up to a people power grid. Tears of joy will come from proclaiming, “I/We did it!”.

Re: Current

I’ve struggled against the current in my life. I’ve also gone with the flow. Several visits to water parks have provided metaphors for life: The exhilarating turbulent plunge from a great height down an almost vertical chute, The spinning disorienting journey through endless coloured pipes, The zen like perch on an inflated plastic donut floating down the lazy river. The flow of water continues to symbolize baptism, renewal as well as resignation. Currents can act as an instrument of fate or provide a jolt to the senses. I’m alive!

Surrendering to a current can be freeing. I remember feeling exalted when I got accepted into Teacher’s college. Previously, I’d been swimming away from my comfort zone in an attempt to realize a childhood dream. Changing direction gave me a different view. I got swept away by the promise of a year of purposeful study. I dove in to find this new course setting refreshing. I felt charged by the electrical current of fresh ideas. I put my compass in my pocket and trusted in the guidance of others to show me the way. I learned to value alternatives.

Changing one vowel in this theme word can create a whole other memory of nasty bits in cake. I hated currants whenever my mom added them to her Christmas fruit cake. The tiny black bits got between my teeth and didn’t marry well with the sweetness of the candied peel. They were bitter, gritty and totally spoiled the experience of this yuletide treat. Thankfully she would make two versions; a light and a dark. The light one was my favourite with plump raisins and an abundance of green and red cherries.

When I was an elementary school student, our teacher gave us daily current event assignments. We were to listen to a special news broadcast and answer questions about the items reported. This grade four experience inspired me and gave me my first feeling of success with school work. My current mother-in-law likes to stay up-to-date with her radio news. I like to debate with her 93 year old brain about the election coming up in her province. We talk about the candidates and the issues that are important to her. She generally likes to stay midstream whereas I sometimes argue that we need to totally change the course, speed and direction of the flow. Many times it becomes clear that we aren’t even in the same boat.

Currently I am in an eddy of time, slowly drifting without control. I’m becalmed in a sea of routine. It’s a familiar place. I know how to patiently wait until my craft finds the benefits of a Gulf Stream to alter my course and send me to new ways of being. Keeping thoughts current is a challenge when you’d rather be somewhere else. News of the world these days can make anyone feel as though they are swimming against the times. I’ll remember to value the stillness and enjoy some cherry cake until something better comes along.

Re: Attachment

My son watched aghast as Prince Harry was asked yet again if he misses his mother. I understood how he could relate to the royal, having lost his own mom to cancer twenty years ago. We both wondered why some people maintain such strong attachments.

“Hang on tightly, let go lightly” is a wonderful line from the film ‘The Croupier’. I’m proud that my sons and I have found ways to detach ourselves from events that have caused us sorrow. We have learned to say goodbye without forgetting. In our own ways we continue to practise the meaning of living in the present. I love my sons not because they are mine, but because of who they are. When I learned the value of loving detachment I made a committed step towards a more mature attitude to life in general and other people in particular. I feel safer knowing I can detach from my own ego, from unhealthy situations, from the pressures of conformity. I will not blindly wave a flag nor join a parade.

I’m learning late in life not to be attached to an outcome. I wished I had had a clearer sense of this when I had sought out opportunities in the past. Perhaps a desire for something is closely linked to our wish for attachment. Sometimes our singularity compels us to seek the security of group membership. Even a kite needs to be tethered by guiding hands before it can soar. Admittedly, this analogy falls down when you consider that your individuality risks being constrained by an idea, a process or a brand. An obligation can also be an attachment that holds you back from discovering what’s best for all concerned. Truth can be the scissors that cut through those tethers that prevent us from experiencing a healthier personal reality.

Getting over ourselves can often mean stepping from the centre of our web of connections. Detaching from some filaments and letting go of the security of the collective is frightening but necessary to growth. I was clinically depressed five years before the death of my wife. I look back in gratitude that I had that span of time to sort myself out. In hindsight, I needed those years to be a better person for my dying spouse. I found ways to be more responsible for myself so I could be of greater assistance to my loving partner.

It isn’t an easy journey but I believe it begins with the cutting of the umbilical cord. To me that marks the start of one’s life, when you know you are truly alone. From that moment there are varying degrees of dependency, agency, and clarity regarding who is really in charge of your existence. Calling the shots means knowing when to seek help, receive help and provide help.

These days I’m attaching myself to the joys of life using a lighter thread enabling me to feel less bound by convention: More tuned in to the slightest breeze of welcoming change. I wish to fly higher and see further.

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: Million

The word Million has lost its financial lustre. I was standing behind a customer who was taking far too long at a drug store cash out. I was trying to keep my patience, peering over his shoulder, watching him buy a bunch of colourful coupons promising instant millions. The cashier wished him luck and he grunted in response, “Can’t even buy a house for a million these days eh!”

‘If I had a Million Dollars’ was a song written in 1992 (another millennium ago) when a million in cash really meant something. Overnight, it seems, we have people who can call themselves billionaires. If Robertson/Page were to rewrite the song today I wonder how their lyrics might go (They’d eat more Kraft Dinner I guess).  Here is an amateur video of a performance by that beautifully Canadian band Bare Naked Ladies when Steven Page was till a member.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06OowJl1J_k

I can honestly say I’ve never wished for money nor have I bought many lottery tickets. That probably says something about how lucky I have been in life. Or perhaps I’m just content to be content. Through no great skill or effort I am a co-owner of a property that keeps edging towards a million bucks in equity. In spite of this possession, I still consider myself part of the vast 99% and can easily rant about the rich not being taxed equitably.

One thing the pandemic has taught me is that death is awesome and unrelenting. I’ve experienced the shock of several people dying in my lifetime. On a personal scale every death is tragic. I remember the first Covid reports in my home province of British Columbia when Dr. Bonnie Henry had a hard time keeping her composure over early deaths. Things have changed. For more than two years now, the daily tally of viral deaths is recorded on websites like some kind of global score card. Our nearest neighbour, the U.S.of A. will soon reach the one million deaths milestone.

In the current age about 50 million people die each year from various causes. Match that with approximately 140 million births and it’s clear that population worldwide is increasing. In 1968, Paul Erhlich warned in his book The Population Bomb that such growth was unsustainable. We see now what a mathematical prophet he was, as the effects of so many, crowded into a finite space, can cause political, health and environmental chaos.

I know my significance is small. On the world scale I’m merely one in several billion. When I think of those numerical values in terms of people my mind is blown. I can visualize a safe with a million dollars but a million souls boggles me. I’ve seen photographs of crowds of folks yet still can’t fathom the sheer extent of humanity captured as a planetary population of 7.9 Billion! I can be histrionic; I was born when the world held a mere 2.6 Billion humans on its surface.

We are fast approaching a new Big Bang.

Re: Prophet

Early every New Year media sources look for seers who are willing to share their predictions. I didn’t see many prophecies this year. Maybe Covid19 trauma has dulled our sense of tomorrow. In many art forms, visions of the future still abound. For example, from an episode of the viral apocalypse TV series ‘Station Eleven’ a character in an airport makes a speech to calm the crowd “There is no future!” the soothsayer declares. With that, those assembled begin talking about what they can do with the frightening realities of the moment. Living in the present is hard. I prefer the hopefulness of the future, while other souls cling to the past for comfort. 

World religions have a bazillion prophets. Characteristically men dominate the list. I have a sweet spot for Sarah, a woman more legend than fact, who lived to be 107 years of age. There is that guy named Joseph Smith, the Mormon founder and follower Brigham Young whose visions led to the deaths of many. In principle and for my tastes, prophets must lead by example, must not profit, nor advocate for exclusivity, status or ethnic cleansing. I have inwardly gasped when I have caught the holiness within others whom I have met. The thought that God might walk amongst us intrigues me. 

Clairvoyants fascinate me. They’re often referred to as people ‘ahead of their time’. A list of my personal oracles can include folks from many walks of life: Jacques Cousteau, Isaac Asimov, Rachel Carson, H.G. Wells, Desmond Tutu, Martin Luther King Jr., George Carlin, Peter Weir, Maude Barlow, Greta Thunberg are examples. From people like these I have felt subtly directed on a path to a full and responsible life.

I like a map to ease my wandering ways. I look for wake up signs everywhere I go: Indications of what might be in store for me. Sometimes these signals can be found in nature, other times I might be viewing a piece of art. Prophecy can be disguised in a time loop. I may not know if I am looking back from my older self or gazing through the bars of my crib. I’ll get a feeling that I’ve been here before. A familiar sense, a deja vu perhaps, comes over me telling me to pay attention. I’ve had some prophetic moments like this. I may not remember what I ate or wore that day but I’ll still recall the sense of being out of time. I’m learning to use this information.

When I began writing these entries I had several objectives, but I couldn’t have predicted that I would complete this one; my 200th personal essay. With humility I see myself following a wondering path similar to premier essayist and diviner Michel de Montaigne. Recording one’s passage is a bit like making a time capsule for the future. I won’t pretend to have a crystal ball. I can’t foresee what will become of me or others. I’m content being my own light.  I’ll continue to let it shine.

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: Normal

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

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

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

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

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