Re: Preserve

Preserve and Conserve are words often used interchangeably, yet each will evoke a different feeling within the spoken or written context. As a result, their subtle separate meanings can feel rather jammy in your head. When I’m writing, sometimes I want the exact word that will deliver my point, other times it’s just fun to mess with all available synonyms to create a mood rather than a message.

My former wife was into preservation, of fruit, of vegetables, of well used bits of fabric which she turned into kid’s clothing and patchwork blankets. She loved the process of conservation. She maintained detailed genealogical records and worked hard to sustain the values she found in her local church. She was proud of her choice to be a modern example of a Homemaker. I built a cold room space that was stocked with the many varieties of her jams, jellies, pickles. I made my own wine from berries picked from our yard, preserving their goodness in a different way. We both worked at preserving the culture of family mealtime.

Human communities value conservation efforts so we set up wildlife preserves. A conservative thinker will often choose the preservation of jobs over the conservation of natural resources. Often we work hard to maintain an institution because we want to preserve a way of life that has become our very identity as a society. Here is Old Fezziwig in a scene from A Christmas Carol, asserting his believe in the ways of old. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qy_G0wvlJXU

Planting a tree is an act of preservation and conservation. We are sequestering carbon dioxide, creating habitat, and providing shade for future generations. We can’t know what the future holds but we know trees are an important part of the picture. Doing art is conservational and the results may be found in a conservatory. Taking aspects of our culture and portraying it in any artistic form is a statement about our present reality and a message for our future unknown selves.

If preserving history means never updating our understanding of its context, then I’m with the people who are currently tearing down the statues of former slave owners. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVELtGOaqxY. I’m into sculptures as an art form but not to iconify individuals. Death belongs in the past and must be documented within the past: Not as a roadmap for the future, but as a story book of how things were.

As a society we sometimes hold on too tightly to outdated things. We give too much credence to conserving tradition when considering how we want our future to look. I believe there is no truth to the phrase; “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” We humans just keep being human regardless of our memory of history. Unfortunately, our nature drives our actions more than our intellect.

Preserves come with an expiry date. If used beyond that point we risk our health. Our current climate crisis suggests we have failed to conserve our valuable resources. Our pantry is being depleted of the things we need and poisoned for lack of stewardship. We are losing sight of the garden.

Re: Pause

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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: Home

I am a person who loves his home so much that he calls it his sanctuary. I’ve been called a homebody. Perhaps being a white guy I can’t call myself a homeboy but I wouldn’t mind if someone called me a homie. Settling into a comfortable homey space, with a book and beverage at hand, is a sigh inducing event. The cliché ‘home is where the heart is’ could be my bumper sticker, needlepoint pillow, memorial bench plaque or business card accent. When Dorothy awakens from her trip to Oz stating, “There’s no place like home.” I can affirm it.

After my retirement from a teaching career, my wife and I thought we could roam about in a home on wheels, being of no fixed address. I got uncomfortable with that romantic ideal pretty quickly. Our next adventure was managing a condo as live-in janitors. I soon found out that my definition of a home was different from other folks. I got frustrated when the owners didn’t take care of their property with the same enthusiasm or respect that I always had for my own home. It seemed like an injustice to clean up after these people misusing their common space in the building whilst outside on the city street homeless wanderers were hunting for any corner that offered warmth.

An enduring memory I have of my childhood is floating in an army surplus dinghy off the coast of Maine. Fishing there with a friend would come to a close as dusk made the sky a deep royal blue along the shoreline. The lights of the beachside cottages would click on bringing a warm orange glow to spaces within. That thought never fails to bring on a yearning to get inside, safe and away from the approaching darkness. It’s the vision that comes to mind whenever I read the idiom ‘home and hearth’.

I recently had a conversation with a young fellow who had moved frequently within a short span of time. I asked him what home meant to him. He described the physical structure of a house or apartment was not the same as the feeling of home. The conversation had many silent moments where I wondered if he was homing in on the quintessential thing that made a home, a home. He went on to tell me that he had a future wish that his perfect home would include a loving family, a place for a BBQ and a big screen television set. He was describing some things that brought him comfort and security, things that he felt he needed to complete the picture of his home. At least in his head, at least for now.

Ravens take the role of homing pigeons in the television series, Game of Thrones. They carried messages and were rewarded with food and safe haven. A homing pigeon knows what a home is. When he finds it I can imagine he feels just as I do when I take in the peace I recognize in my abode.

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: Surgery

My first experiences with surgery came before I was seven years old. Back in my early years it was routine to have your tonsils out before you got too long in the tooth. The idea, as I remember being told, was to reduce the risk of illness in the throat. As a bonus the surgeon would often yank out the adenoids. Now, more than sixty years later, whenever I think of hospitals I recall the smell of ether.

On the best advice of the day, my parents chose to have me go under the knife for the tonsillectomy. Just a year later, near my birthday, I was exploring a barn and a large iron bar fell across the toes of my left foot, smashing several bones. I had a bit of emergency surgery done and a cast was placed on my leg up to my knee. It became this young adventurer’s point of pride the following week at his birthday party. Every guest signed their name to my plaster of Paris leg as a tribute to my survival.

Surgical procedures have no doubt changed in my lifetime. Rich folk are choosing costly cosmetic surgery in the hopes of drinking at the well of eternal youth. New advances in prosthetics and bionics are also enabling greater mobility after corrective surgeries. Whether the surgery is elective or needed as a result of illness or accident, recovery times have been reduced since my tonsil days when ice cream was prescribed after the first night in a hospital ward. For example, it amazes me how quickly women are sent home after delivery of their baby, even if complications would suggest caution. I recently had prostate surgery which went according to plan, but then I was discharged too early only to find myself back in emergency and recovering from that ordeal. Perhaps our medical system is becoming too intent on freeing up beds as a cost saving policy, even when further monitoring is warranted. Aftercare is surely as important as the original dramatic diagnosis of the need for surgery.

Reading about the gold rush days of North American I am amused to discover that surgery and dentistry were often practised by the same person as indicated by their shingle hanging near a saloon on the boardwalk of a pioneer town. In those days a surgeon might have been called a sawbones in direct relation to the nature of their work. The early rudimentary nature of this medical profession is visually apparent in this opening scene of Dances With Wolves.

Which leads me to segue to military surgical strikes: Where the intent is to precisely remove a foreign threat by using an assassin, a tactical team, a smart bomb or a drone. Like bodily surgeries the objective is to get rid of any threatening or unnecessary bits before they affect the smooth running of he organism. In the case of limited warfare, the organism at risk is deemed to be the free world. Send in James Bond! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9PM5I0jKxb8

Re: Pain

Recently I opted for some elective surgery. While in hospital, the most frequent question posed by the nurse was, “Are you experiencing pain?” This question was clarified with, “On a scale of one to ten.” Aside from coping with the real pain, this question caused stress pain. I couldn’t identify the pain level, since it varied from moment to moment. The consistency of the pain was also a factor: there was dull ache, sharp spasms, performance anxiety, all over ague, perpetual angst, stiff muscular knots and constant ringing in my ears. It was impossible to assist the nurse’s valid question because I clearly couldn’t un-sort my feelings.

When it comes to pain, I’m a baby. I can take the sight of blood or a nasty bump but when I feel a low grade headache coming on I run to the medicine cabinet. I keep all the brands of pain relievers so that I can cover all the bases when pain strikes. I think of pain as discomfort, not the, ‘Oh God I’ve just been shot!’, sort of experience. Lucky me. I’ve never had an extreme level of pain. I’ve only been in one fistfight in my life. My sparring partner proclaimed to the grade six class one day that he was going to bring ‘A whole lotta pain’ my way. My classmates witnessed the choosing of the location for the fight later that day and some even showed up to see the result. It was over in a few minutes; blows were struck, noses bloodied, honour restored. I went home after feeling manly yet bruised. I was offered an ice pack and a hot cup of tea.

Recently I’ve been enjoying the drama of a British TV series, Call the Midwife.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tY0eUynAOY . The episodes have renewed my respectful belief that I could never give birth to a child. In reality, I’ve been a father to three sons, watching my wife handle the painful moments of childbirth. Now each time I saw a mother crying out to the television midwives I’ve moved into the room with them, almost becoming them, as though they hold a painful memory. Yet after the TV birth there is joy! How can this be? I’d picture myself immediately asking for knock-out drops.

We use the word Pain in our language frequently. Someone at the office is a ‘Pain in the Neck’ or worse, ‘A Pain in the Butt’. When we were bringing bad news we used to lead into the announcement by saying, “I’m pained to say this…”. Most country songs are about painful breakups or loss. This kind of emotional pain is surely at the heart of the OXY crisis.
https://www.pharmacytimes.com/contributor/marilyn-bulloch-pharmd-bcps/2018/08/how-oxycodone-has-contributed-to-the-opioid-epidemic

Even though I am British born I find it hard most times to offer a stiff upper lip to discomfort. I will take an easy fix, just as long as it comes over the counter and is medically tested. I hope I never know what real pain is.