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: 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: Trouble

Trouble is one of those words that pops up frequently. We don’t go looking for it, but it has a way of finding us. “You’re in big trouble mister!” was a sentence I was afraid of hearing as a young boy. Luckily I didn’t hear it very often. I got caught swearing. I once told a kid with big ears that he had big ears. I stole a magnet. That’s about all the trouble I put my parents through. Troublesome, I was not. That was my little sister’s job.

There is a lot of trouble in the world. I don’t know for certain if present times are more troubling than times of yore, but it sure feels like it (make your own list of woes here). I wonder if much of it is our own making. We can look for others to blame or consider ourselves as victims of circumstance I suppose. We can be conned into a fearful state. Here, The Music Man quickly convinces the townsfolk that trouble was just around the corner, all because of a Pool Hall in River City. Well, I’ll be hornswoggled!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LI_Oe-jtgdI

Laughing through our times of trouble can be helpful when the fix is easy. Authors create characters who might conjure trouble over a bubbling pot or use television comedy to resolve the conflict on screen. Laugh tracks can help assure us that problems won’t last and, really, everything is all in good fun. Captain Kirk tried to be serious during his trouble with Tribbles but in the end even Spock feigned amusement. Song writers can use melody to bring us out of our funk or they may convince us with words that we need not worry, just be happy. One of the films of my childhood starred an actor named Norman Wisdom. ‘Trouble in Store’ was about a charming goof of a man who’s heart was always in the right place even when his brain wasn’t fully engaged.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JpMRnN5-Bpw

Sometimes the difference between pain and suffering is a matter of time as much as perspective. The Troubles of Northern Ireland lasted decades before there was any sort of peaceful resolution. Children grew up in this God forsaken corner of the world knowing all measure of hostility. Religion as a cause would be any easy excuse while to me, watching from the outside, it seemed more about bitterness, intractable positions, poverty and blind stupidity.

Trouble Shooting sounds like an oxymoron yet it can be helpful to gather as a group to solve a problem or set a new direction. I normally like to keep to myself, yet put me in a room with some newsprint on a flip chart and I can lead a bunch of willing wanderers out of their confusion. “Remember folks, there are no wrong answers.” I’ll announce as I clutch my set of non toxic coloured markers. Word to the wise: I’ve learned to set up the ‘breakout’ groups before workshop participants consider a mutiny.

Re: Understand

I took a two hour road trip with someone several years ago. Please understand that I zone out after a few minutes as a passenger in any vehicle. I’m not much better at conversation if I’m driving the car. Then I put myself on auto pilot as my mind numbs to anything but safety on the highway. On this particular trip though, the time sped by because we were dissecting the phrase, “I can dig it.” 

We both got the reference to the sixties, back when the phrase was popularized. We were of a similar age to appreciate the context behind ‘getting it’ but wondered if there was a difference between relating and understanding. Today when we say,”I can relate” after a friend has told us a story we want to convey that we understand as well as feel empathy. While in the car, that division between mind and heart kept us alert as we gave examples of understanding someone’s point of view while not necessarily relating to their situation.

For example, I understand why a person may choose to own a pet. I confess that I don’t prefer animals in the home, even though I have shared space with dogs, cats, a rabbit, a lizard and tropical fish at various times in my life. My sister and her daughter have both been pet lovers. When my niece said goodbye to her latest dog I asked if she would get another animal. She knows I would have a hard time relating to her decision if she did. Perhaps we can relate to our next of kin or loved ones because it is easier to empathize. They are relatives after all, so understanding their behaviour is not always conditional for our love. 

If I want to understand something or someone I take steps to evaluate the information provided. I’ll listen, observe, compare and contrast in a genuine effort to see the facts. This is head space work, scientific even. I don’t relate to the desire to go jogging. I understand the joy of fresh air, wind in my hair and using physical, not fossilized, energy. But would I make going for a daily run a lifestyle choice? Nope!

Back in the Trump days it was understandable to me how his brand could be seen as commercially appealing. I also ‘got’ the hatred for Hillary. And yet I could not relate to those who chose to vote for someone with so many obvious flaws. The division I see amongst the population of the United States today is a result of one side ignoring the work that is required to understand. In interviews these folks will actually be heard saying, “I don’t need to know.” 

Understanding certainly helps you to ‘get’ another person. When I am in conversation with someone, I like it when they check in with a phrase or comment which suggests they want to confirm what they just heard. They may not ‘dig’ my point of view but it’s wonderful to find out that they want to understand me.

Re: Visit

I just had a visit from my son, his wife and our grandchild. With Covid concerns and all that going on it’s been a while since we have seen each other. Their stay reminded me of the twice yearly visits to grand folks that my first wife and I undertook. And it was always an undertaking; packing the right toys, snacks for the trip, clothing for outdoor activities, allowing time to visit the loo. Road trips to family always gave me mixed feelings. Regardless of how much I might have enjoyed the company, expectations always hitched a ride along with the luggage. 

“Come on in, welcome, how long can you stay, what brings you this way, make yourself at home, what can I get you, it’s been too long, how was your trip, remember the time when…” Phrases spill out during the first moments of greeting of the visitor, often in a tumble of words and feelings. The excitement makes me breathless. Perhaps that’s why the first question to a visitor will often be, “Can I get you a drink?”

Next to visits to the zoo my mom’s favourite activity on Sundays was popping by to see friends of the family. As a kid I felt the awkwardness of tagging along as many of these visits were unannounced and without invitation. Much later in her life, I saw my mom squirm when she had to accommodate well meaning drop-in visitations at her nursing home residence. She once shooed out a ‘man of the cloth’ with the shouted words, “What makes you think I need saving?” 

One sided visits can end badly. I have been on the receiving end of a final visit that put an end to our relationship. She just dropped in to say goodbye. The outcome, in hindsight, was appropriate. Yet those visitor’s words still sting. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rETA22Z_a9g

Some visitations, like death-bed rites, are formal. Hospitals recognize the limits of a visit by posting visiting hours. Visitors bring joy and assist in healing yet they can overstay their welcome. The phrase ‘pay someone a visit’ suggests a transaction of sorts. Your mere presence can be a gift and therefore requires a ‘thank you’ at least. Many cultures have an unwritten rule that guests cannot be turned away without offering food, drink or lodging. Countries value dignitaries who come to meet and greet; photo-ops are important to diplomacy. Ask any waiter how thin the line is between hospitality and wanting the table cleared for the next customer. 

Currently I am on an extended visit. I am sharing a palliative care mission with my wife. We have endeavoured to create for each other an environment that provides some comforts of home while recognizing the temporary nature of the stay. My son’s visit did a lot to make a bad situation seem more normal. Another son has planned a weekend with us to bring us some laughter. In the big picture, Life itself can be described as a visit. And we only have one.

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.

Re: Lifetime

I went to a funeral gathering to honour a champion of our community. It was my first outing involving a collective in a long time due to Covid19 restrictions. The crowd spilled out from the community hall into the adjacent garden where extra chairs and a PA system had been set up so the speakers could be easily heard. It was an event of a lifetime.

The deceased was a lady who had become one of my first friends since retirement. My wife and I would often see her taking an active role in our city. She would always smile as she told her latest news and thoughts. Over my lifetime I have met few who have shown such grace and citizenship. She led by action and demonstrated how an individual can make a difference.

My young niece wants some tips regarding retirement plans. She is focussed on keeping her working lifetime as short as possible. Unlike many in my generation who have spent a lifetime waiting to finally do those dreamed of things, this hard working woman wants to build that future now.

Most of us give our labour with a hope that we can emerge in a better place, with a goal accomplished. Watching athletes compete at the Olympic Games this summer I’m reminded that sometimes the best laid plans sometimes must be deferred. These games were postponed for a year which disturbed the competitors’ schedules, likely causing angst over lifetime achievement plans. When earlier Olympics were boycotted by some countries I remember feeling empathy for those crushed by the reality of years spent training to get in peak form only to be thwarted by a government’s decree. Some may have lost lifesavings in the endeavour. I’m happy to see some of my tax dollars being used as a lifeline to support these determined individuals.

Somethings can be described as lifetime events such as the birth of a child, a death, a career achievement, a sporting medal or an election victory. Imagine the feeling you must have if you are credited with being someone’s lifesaver. We can claim responsibility for some singular lifetime moments yet not all momentous occasions are entirely in our hands. Recently a town close to me had a record breaking heat wave. It was reported as a ‘Once in a Lifetime’ weather event. As a kid these phenomenon might have been called a ‘freak of nature’. Now, as a people, we are realizing that many of these weather anomalies are very much of our own making.

An ad on television added to my train of thought. “Buy a lottery ticket and all your dreams may come true.” boasted the promoter. My niece wouldn’t rely on that advice. My deceased friend saw value in human currency to find a lifetime full of rewards. Luck or misfortune can sometimes sit beside you at life’s card table. Sometimes you’d be wise to walk away to play a different game. In the long game of a lifetime, a dream come true is a yearning that has been answered.

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: Fish

I like the non gendered word Fisher; someone who fishes for their livelihood. Even Jesus must have preferred it to Fisherman/Fisherwoman since he extolled his disciples, “I will make you fishers of men.” I have been interested in fish for as long as I can remember.  My favourite bedtime story was McElligot’s Pool by Dr. Seuss. Pretend you’re a kid again, listen with wonder and you’ll see why I got hooked.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yNH6i3KSYsk

When I got older, the first novel I read was about an old man who went out to sea and caught a fish as big as his boat. Once, when asked what super power I would like, I said I wanted gills like Aquaman. I kept several aquariums in my bedroom during adolescence. I have visited many large city aquariums including a beautiful one in Lisbon, Portugal. I learned how to use SCUBA gear so I could join my finned friends in their own habitat. I studied Ichthyology in university as part of my Bachelor’s Degree in Fish and Wildlife Biology. I spent one summer surveying lakes in Northern Ontario to help the government determine if there were viable areas to develop for a fishing tourism industry.

The watery world we live on fascinates me. I’m not alone, as a book by Laura Trethewey called ‘The Imperilled Ocean’ attests. I could find myself in these chapters devoted to how we all are personally linked to the ocean and its creatures. It brought back memories of idle summer holidays immersing myself in the tidal zones along Wells Beach, Maine. Now living in British Columbia I am very aware of the impact of the salmon fishery. I’ve just finished a great book about salmon by Mark Kurlanski. The controversies of salmon farming, hatcheries, fish ladders, commercial fishing, fish cannons, river habitat are discussed. When greed, politics and climate realities merge it’s clear something fishy is going on.

I remember the first fish I caught, a Sunfish, was barely bigger than my hand. It’s scales were coloured like a rainbow. I won’t forget it’s perfectly round eye, staring back at me. Everyone near me shouted congratulations yet I felt sad. I was surprised how its brilliant colours faded as its gills stopped moving.

Philosophically, I like using fishing as an analogy for life. I used to encourage my children to go out into life as though they were going fishing: “Cast your line son. You never know what might come to your bait.” Fishing in this broader sense requires amounts of patience, perseverance, courage and curiosity. When looking for a mate or a date it’s important to keep trying. My mom once tried to console me when I was crushed by an adolescent breakup, “There are plenty of fish in the sea.” Whether applying for a job, signing up for a course of studies, deciding on a purchase or looking for a new friend, fish around until satisfied. You never know, what you might catch could just be a new way of thinking.

Re: Face

One of my very first memories was of me, chattering nonsense at the dinner table, then being told by my mother to “Shut your face!” I would come to face the truth that that was her way of joking. Growing into an adult I have had to face the facts about my parents, as all children must do, if any sort of relationship is to be maintained.

I have another memory of my mother when she was a municipal politician, where doing an about face was a match for her personality. Getting ready for a meeting, she would always get her face on. She rarely wore makeup but used cosmetics to make herself ‘public’ as she would put it. I’ve often wondered about the sincerity of the cosmetic industry for this reason. As a heterosexual male I have always been most attracted to women who eschew adorning themselves. Natural faces are so beautiful; freckles, blemishes, scars and all.

Let’s face it, many people create a facade for their true selves. Some can’t accept their reality as they face the mirror, so they invent someone who is more in line with who they wish to be. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ytZsndEc830 .

It must be hard to use dating apps for that reason. As you scroll through the choices all you have to go on are the manufactured bios and carefully posed selfies. When it comes time for the risky face to face meeting, it is like the old notion of a blind date; cross your fingers and hope you haven’t made a mistake.

I’m that way with the celebrities I have chanced to meet. I usually get all flustered, heart racing in an OMG moment. I lose my sense of normality as I overthink what I must say or do when faced with the fact that they are right there in front of me. I’ll always regret a brief encounter with Neil Sedaka. He looked lost without an entourage at an airport in North Bay, Ontario and I didn’t offer to help, rudely acting like a VIP myself, off to catch my flight.

Other times in my life I have been able to put on a brave face. During sick leave for depression, several of my grade eight students sent me get well cards asking if I would attend their graduation ceremonies. I didn’t know whether I could face the music, so to speak, of returning to the environment that had been partially responsible for my nervous breakdown. Thankfully, with a friend to accompany me, I could face up to the hard therapy of getting on with life. Facing reality is damned hard work. That event was the first step of many I took to recover and rebuild my identity.

Using Facetime is a wonderful way to show your two dimensional self during COVID19. I live far from my grandkids, so I love to see their grinning, curious faces. While I long for a good old fashioned three dimensional hug, at least having screen time with them is better than any television show.