Re: Spectacle

Being a follower of the philosophy of awesomeness I’m naturally drawn to anything spectacular. Occurrences in the sky can make me gasp with pleasure. I love double rainbows. A bright full moon with a three dimensional texture will knock my socks off. While travelling on the prairies I’ve been awed by the spectacle of distant cloud formations slowly approaching my position then dropping rain in great curtains, quenching the arid landscape.

I can be gobsmacked by human feats of invention. I love a grand fireworks display as though I’m seeing it for the first time. Uniformed marching members of parades don’t turn me on like they did when I was a kid. Back then my mom would warn me not to make a spectacle of myself. Her admonishments made me shy, but maybe I’m just naturally introverted so I mustn’t blame her for my lack of desire to seek the spotlight. I had to get a pair of glasses (horrible cheap black rimmed ones) in grade eight which caused me a bit of teen angst. You could say I felt a spectacle due to my spectacles!

In adult situations, I prefer to be a shadow assistant or second-in-command. Once, a Chairperson of a Board, on which I served, called me a ‘stealth director’ which underscored my wish to be seen and not heard. I like to be judged by my actions. I am surprisingly happy when I find out someone has been talking about me. Some have said it is better to be gossiped about, rather than being the one to spread rumours. Balcony seats in opera houses were designed to show off patrons, much as scandal sheets, like the National Enquirer, serve the purpose of getting celebrities the notice desired. Can you be humble and not wish to attract attention, all at the same time? I seriously don’t recall an occasion when I’ve purposefully made a spectacle of myself. Whether that is because I’m not very daring in social situations or that I’m just not easily embarrassed, I haven’t figured that out yet.

A spectacle can draw us together. The lustre of pomp and ceremony has somewhat dimmed for me as I age. Staged events, particularly political ones, can make me feel less than impressed when I think the money could be better spent elsewhere. However, I still feel attached to the culture surrounding the Olympics: the intent to showcase human excellence, the effort to break down borders and barriers through sport is inspiring to witness. It’s a reminder of how far we have come from the days of the Roman Colosseum where human life was treated with such disregard.

We see what we want to see. We hear what pleases us. I confess to filtering life through rose coloured glasses when the landscape surrounding me presents discord. It can be a matter of survival to change focus when my emotional resources are low. But I do have a special pair of spectacles for when it’s important to see as clearly and as far ahead as possible.

Re: Body

‘We all need some body to lean on.’ I’ve separated a compound word back there on purpose. If the great Bill Withers tune comes to mind that’s ok by me, just lean on me, while I try to amuse you with what the word Body brings to my mind. I promise I’ll stay away from bodily functions, body humour and noises a body might make.

When typing the word Body I must admit my first thoughts are sexy ones. A country song by The Bellamy Brothers plays now in my head; “If I said you have a beautiful body/Would you hold it against me?” That makes me think of times I’ve shared my body. I’ve been lucky that others have been attracted to me. I’ve been lucky to be fit without really trying. I’ve been in no major accidents and have few ailments. Like most people, I wish some parts of my body were better: longer, firmer, brawnier, hairier, or more flexible. Generally I think I’m presentable if not lovable.

Body talk is often frowned upon. Some folks are too quick to assume that the speaker/writer/painter/photographer is body shaming, or lascivious or sexist or objectifying. When the subject of bodies is portrayed within the context of communicating feeling or ideas more tolerance is needed. My overriding biased opinion is that, yes the human body is a thing (flesh, bones, blood & stuff), but always a beautiful one. I truly marvel at the variety and assortment of fleshy things that are in this big world. How wonderful it is when our soul gets to decide how to practise play while using a body full of movement, senses and expressions!

Some feel their body gets in the way. I was surprised by a comment Melanie Safka made recently in an interview about impediments to her musical career. I naively thought that all men and women had the ability to shape their lives equally. Boy! Girl! Was I wrong! Melanie said,”I kind of wished I didn’t have a body.” That statement made me ponder the male/female divide when it comes to how we view our bodies. As a young adult I was very attracted to her bodacious body and also to her body of work. I memorized the lyrics to ‘Brand New Key’ and I empathized along with her when she sang, ‘What Have They Done To My Song Ma.’

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2021/dec/14/singer-songwriter-melanie-woodstock-was-unbelievably-frightening

During award shows my favourite category is Lifetime Achievement. A human is being recognized for the work they’ve done using their body, mind and spirit over the course of a majestic period of time. Pity the person who didn’t appreciate the award winner in the early days. Prejudice may start when a body meets a body and the impression is only skin deep. Snap decisions based on looks can affect a career or a relationship. Judging a book by its cover can inhibit you from discovering a story that may change your life.

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: One

I never thought I would admit this in public, but I’ve been lonely. I have been separated from my one and only, my best friend, my lover, my wife for more than 200 days now. She is on an important mission and I am supporting her as best I can from afar. The oneness that I have experienced with her is not one sided as she too feels the great chasm that comes about when you are not with the one you love. We both endeavour to be strong while acknowledging that One is clearly the loneliest number. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYzY7-V5vxY

There are so many individual ones in the world: Close to 8 billion singular human entities. On the spectrum of ‘personalities who need another in their lives’ the range might be from hermit types to polyamorous groupies. I have felt more in common with the hermit; sequestering myself from the massive throngs of civilization. That is one of the reasons why my recent feelings of loneliness are somewhat confusing. I do really appreciate my own company, that was tested in me as a child. I know I can confidently go it alone but I also know I don’t want to. I am Stoic. I am Vulcan. I take pride in the notion that I can control my desire to be one with the collective. I am Adam yet I must have my Eve.

I have used the power of oneness many times in my life and have discovered that being One doesn’t necessarily mean that you are alone. I have had many glimpses of what it means to be one in the spirit. I have learned to trust. Those 8 billion collective consciouses can be a powerful support mechanism when most needed, like after trauma. Some believe that even dead souls can act as guides. So while loneliness may occasionally tear at my heart, I remind myself that I am never really alone.

I admit also to being a romantic and a great believer in finding ‘the one’. I was lucky to find my Juliet in university. She accepted my formal proposal of marriage. Her family gave their blessing. We had the wedding service where two candles were extinguished and one candle was lit. We had many adventures, raised three boys together and approached middle age with confidence in our bond. When she died I felt lost and alone. I was now one, where I had been two and I wondered just what I might do with the rest of my life. Imagine how blessed I felt when I found my Anne. She too had known loneliness and found ways to appreciate being alone. Our meeting was one for the ages. We couldn’t believe our luck. Now we two could design our own Green Gables.

My wife and I celebrate in the oneness of our combined families. Our grandchildren are learning to count and always start with One. It is the first number. It’s where we all begin and where we all end.

Re: Endurance

The times we are in require endurance. People living in North America have now been suffering from the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic for over a year. We are showing signs of fatigue as we try to endure closures, lockdowns, lay-offs, long lines, crowded hospitals, enclosed spaces, domestic tension, business uncertainty, mental breakdown, unexpected shortages, restricted travel, etc. The list is long as we try to hang on or hang in.

Yet I have not tested positive for Covid-19 so I call myself lucky. There are numerous perspectives when it comes to pain and grief. I stop myself from complaining about my particular situation, knowing full well that someone else will be finding life much harder. Currently, I’m only suffering from the repercussions of our society’s response. Nevertheless I wonder how much longer I can endure fundamental changes to my existence.

I’m awed when I hear tales of lost miners or people who have been abducted or imprisoned for lengthy periods. There are many compelling stories of individuals who have managed to prevail while entrapped. Anne Frank & Henri Charriére for example, lived through unendurable experiences. In a modern context, two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, have now been detained by Chinese authorities for more than two years. Situations may differ but people who have endured must find a similar inner strength to stick it out.

Those who undertake endurance runs capture my enduring attention. I marvel at their willpower. The desire to be first must not be their only motivating force. I recall back in the seventies watching people hang on to the side of a boat, parked on the street. A local sports store offered the vessel in a questionable contest to promote the grand opening. Several entered, despite the hardships of the strict rules (ex. one hand must always be on the boat, only six ten minute bathroom breaks per day allowed). The winner, literally the last one holding on, endured for eight days in all types of weather.

The popular television series ‘Survivor’ and ‘Alone’ have sometimes captured this phenomenal human quality of persistence. We watch and judge as contestants muster calm, a focus, a belief: ‘this too shall pass’. With many contests, prize money is the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. In real life situations however, I believe incentive comes from seeing the light that is already there.

What makes things endurable for me is a sense that what I am doing has value. I thrive on a voice telling me to hang in there, to keep calm and carry on, to persevere. I don’t need a thrill that speaks to outlasting others in a virtual race. In my most adverse times I haven’t even imagined a finish line. Sometimes you just don’t have a choice but to hang in there. We must have conviction that we are durable. Like other generations who have faced down forces that have made life difficult, giving up is not a satisfying alternative. Soon we will say with pride, we did endure.

Re: Circumstance

It is possible to be convicted by circumstantial evidence. Likewise, we are all victims of circumstance. Our unique set of circumstances, beginning with the accident of our birth, forms the template of our lives. Some of us will carry our fates like a cross to bear, some will struggle with the unfairness of our circumstances while others will journey forth to find the truth of their destiny.

It’s not pleasant to feel shackled by unfortunate circumstances. We can look at the hand we’ve been dealt and search vainly for something up our sleeve; some magic that will improve our circumstances. I’d hate to live as a Hindu under the caste system. How is that any different from the rule of apartheid as practised once in South Africa? One’s lot in life can be accepted but to have it institutionalized is a travesty of human rights. It’s a form of segregation that the Dalai Lama finds abhorrent. I can’t imagine being an Untouchable.

I refuse to be a victimized by my circumstances.  I have sometimes shouted the Billy Joel song, ‘My Life’ while in the shower. Feeling angry after being bullied, I wanted to be left alone with my own life. Under these circumstances the lyrics can be seen as an encouragement to stand tall, girded by the courage of your own convictions. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tka4DQGx7zc

I think artists, and particularly poets, are the scientists of emotion. They use words to try to make observations and draw conclusions about feelings. If you get concerned about the hand you’ve been dealt in life, it might help to change your vocabulary. Coincidence is linked to circumstance. Fate is the annoying brother. Serendipity is the favourite aunt. Timing is your gym coach. These words can lead you out of the prejudice you find whenever you hear the word Circumstance. Yes, events happen to you, but you can decide what to do next. Circumstances may have brought you to the crossroad and then it is up to you to go left or right.

To be sure, there is unfairness in the world. It’s unfortunate that some people work harder to prove this truth than to correct it.  I find no satisfaction in saying, “I told you so.” And pointing the finger of blame doesn’t help either, even if you are pointing it at yourself by saying, “I can never catch a break.” I walked by a park near where I live and saw many tents occupied by homeless folk. “Get a job!” I’ve heard some shout as they drive by in their cars. One tent was set on fire under suspicious circumstances. I often wonder if under different circumstances, I might be one of these unfortunates hunkering in a flimsy structure, unfit for a cold dark winter.

I like the first four letters in the word coincidence. Our circumstances can provide us with the ‘coin’ we may use to get the most out of life. Don’t make yourself a slave to fate. Watch for the opportunity, then lay down your hand with optimism.

Re: Wild

Most people my age can describe stories of their wild childhood. Children of the late fifties were told to get outside and play, totally unstructured. Urban kids, like me, would find creeks to splash in, grassy fields under towering hydro power lines or small preserved woodlots. I remember Saturdays leaving home after breakfast, scrounged some food from neighbours or restaurants for lunch. Getting up to no good, some would say. “Come home before dark.” was the only direction our parents gave, otherwise,“Have fun!” Along the way I learned how to fend for myself, who to trust and how to manage time and space. There has been a recent social movement to allow more freedom for young folk, to be raised in this ‘free range’ style without a lot of parental supervision. The whole idea of what wildness can do for our personal growth needs more examination.

Since our cave dwelling days, humankind has feared the wild even though we are part of it. We’ve been given biblical directives to tame the earth, thus separating us from nature. I enjoyed the characterization given to wild things in the television series Game of Thrones. For example there is the conundrum of the Wildlings; those far northern people beyond The Wall, who are feared and sneered at by those from the southern regions. They are clothed in primitive furs, exhibit a fierce determination and have awesome survival skills. They remind us where we came from so we get to feel superior. I found it so fitting that Jon Snow finds kinship with these prehistoric folk. At the end of the series, without giving too much away, this beloved character gets to start over by going back to the wilderness. To me, he goes home.

My formative years were spent near the Warden Woods in Scarborough, Ontario. In that area of the world there were few places, then as now, where one can find any sense of wilderness. In my mind’s eye I created deep jungles, vast oceans and towering mountains. I recreated the adventures of my explorer heroes, setting off to wild foreign landscapes with the wish to discover what others already knew. Charles Darwin was my earliest pretend mentor; brave scientist sailing in the Beagle to catalogue the wonders of the natural world. He went where the wild things dwelt.

Sir David Attenborough has made an impassioned plea for humans to ‘rewild’ the planet. This suggestion to go wildly off tangent from our consumptive trajectory is in response to the facts of global warming, deforestation and species decline which are elements of the Anthropocene. His latest effort is a call to action. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Puv0Pss33M

Space travel does not answer the question of our ultimate survival. We already live on a spaceship. A former U.N. ambassador Adlai Stevenson said, “We travel together, passengers on a little space ship… preserved from annihilation only by the care, the work, and…the love we give our fragile craft…on (our) resolution, depends the survival of us all.”

Re: Story

I’m thrilled that my three grandchildren are being read stories to. I have yet to have that task assigned to me, what with COVID19 keeping my little ones from scrambling up on Grandpa’s lap. For now I have enjoyed the sight of them tumbling for access beside their parents while we long distance chat though the magic of the internet. The young ones’ smiles and squeaks of glee fill my ears and heart as cardboard pages are turned beyond the screen that separates us.

My father, who loved to create his own stories, once had to work night shift when my younger sister was in her prime bedtime story time. Unable to share tales with her to settle her to sleep, he crafted yarns on a reel to reel tape recorder. He left the cumbersome machine on a stool by her bed, asking me to press the start button. His voice would quickly work its magic spell on her anxious soul. Once down, she was a deep sleeper. I sometimes surrendered to sleep, as I sat on my bed nearby, only to be jolted awake by the flap, flap, flap of the tape’s end. 

Stories have always bound us together. Ancient ancestors recited tales around the campfire. Today we create blogs. When we travel and meet others we might share a meal together and ask, “So, what’s your story?” Our stories are our lives: Interpreted so that we may understand ourselves. Told, so that others may know us. The character Tyrion Lannister in this scene from The Game of Thrones speaks well of the power of stories. 

History is really a series of stories, retold, written down, debated and repeated. Unfortunately, men have generally been the arbiters of HIStory, with women’s roles often being left as footnotes. Societies are slowly coming to realize that the truths of our lives have only been half told and that HERStories cannot be left unrecorded. A woman is not the ‘better half’ of a partnership story anymore than her past can be lewdly considered ‘storied’ as in pulp fiction novels. All human beings contribute to the narrative that is OURStory.

When I witness a large crowd of people I’m overwhelmed by the thought of all those stories: Globally almost 8 billion! The story of one can seem as simple as choosing yes or no. Now I add an extra to my circle. Then I add those who are close to me, then those who I work with and others I’m only vaguely familiar with. Like rain drops on a quiet pond, I picture a vast collection of Venn diagrams; spaces where stories overlap, large arcs where stories are still unfolding, and along the edges there are stories I can only imagine. My story is only complete when it’s placed within the context of this vast community.

I don’t know how to comprehend the many stories of humanity but sometimes I have a Eureka moment when I experience poetry. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ws5klxbI87I

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: Legacy

I’ve had some amazing students in my classrooms. Some children have burned so brightly I’ve wondered at the time if this moment in their lives would eclipse all other accomplishments. Collectively, what they have left to me, is an affective legacy. Just as I have been part of my students’ lives they have shared themselves in ways that have influenced who I am today. 

Lately the term ‘Legacy’ has come up in news reports to describe what a particular politician might leave behind as they vacate their office. Lessons may have been learned from their tenure in government. If the leader was of great stature they may have created change that will live on in national policies and the consciousness of the citizenry. Hopefully these achievements will be referred to before the death of the individual. Contributions are worthy of repeating long before funeral speeches are written. 

While some wealthy people have used philanthropy to improve their social legacy, only history will say whether their overall impact as human beings will be revered or frowned upon. Gaining inheritance money or being a child of a celebrity can often be viewed as riding on someone else’s coat tails. Children of parents who have gone to prestigious universities in the United States are able to get Legacy Status for admission and thereby skipping the line. Recently people of privilege went a step further using bribery to receive bogus scholarships for their children.

Every Canadian knows of the legacy of Terry Fox, a one legged runner who attempted to cross our giant country to raise money for cancer research. His achievement and humility are factors that make his name appear on lists of top ten important Canadians, something he hadn’t envisioned or desired when he began the straightforward act of running. His legacy inspired Steve Fonyo to continue his run of a lifetime. Each year many run in Terry’s honour and hundreds of thousands contribute to boost this financial legacy. Individuals are often praised for what they leave behind. Groups of individuals can also be recognized for making a lasting contribution. Banners in stadiums attest to past achievements in sport. Plaques, stars in pavements or statues we erect can’t tell the whole story behind the individual honoured for their legacy.

Like the over used word ‘Hero’ we may be in a time when we hunger for an example of greatness so much that we might use ‘Legacy’ too easily. And yet no other word can be relevant to describe Captain Tom Moore as an example of a person’s actions leaving behind an imprint for the ages. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPxOjHgqFrY . Capt. Tom’s example inspired others, such as John Hillman of Oak Bay, to add to his own personal legacy by raising money for a cause by the simple act of walking. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T7s4JshbjUA .

Sir Isaac Newton once wrote, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants”. Ultimately we increase the value of any legacy by continuing the work that has been started.