Re: Tree

During the time I have spent in a fifth floor apartment in the midst of suburbia, I have come to appreciate a maple tree outside my window. From my balcony perspective I am living at the level of the tree’s canopy. I have now gone an annual cycle with this tree; through the four seasons of change. My time began here as leaves turned colourful, then brittle enough to escape with the breeze. Winter branches crackled with frost and sleet. I was close enough to watch the buds burst in spring, while birds built their nests. As summer leaves widened, branches moaned in the wind. Now the tree and I have come full circle. I mourn a little as my tree returns to its dormant state. I have more waiting to do.

It’s hard not to be a forest activist when your permanent home is in British Columbia. While I’m away from the towering firs and cedars I’ve been reading about trees. There are some wonderful recent books on the subject. I’ve joined several authors in their revery of dendrology. I devoured the description of the passionate arboreal warriors in The Overstory by Richard Powers. I found a kinship concerning the science behind The Arbornaut by Meg Lowman and Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard. Call me sappy, but I rewatched the film Avatar for its tree hugging sentimentality.

Canadians are blessed with opportunities to experience trees in nature. Cutting down your own Christmas tree is part of our culture. Most folks know how to use an axe to chop wood into fire sized chunks. I’d be surprised if I met someone who hadn’t climbed up into a tree’s branches as a child, testing themselves while finding a fresh perspective. My son often carries a hammock in his hiker’s bag so he can rest between two trees, gently swinging. His brothers and I have planted many a tree sapling while sharing hopes for future groves, bringing environmental health and integrity.

Trees are great metaphors for many aspects of life. My first wife was a genealogist. She spent much time researching family trees, revealing fascinating ancestral connections. She traced some branches back to early North American colonial settlements. She discovered heroes, black sheep, soldiers and farmers and many quirky characters who enlivened our understanding of our genetic predispositions. During my church years, my Sunday school students would move in close when I told them about the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Life. They all agreed that Eve did the right thing to show Adam the wonders of that Apple of Knowledge. “How else would we learn!” Exclaimed one girl.

I’ve been lucky to see trees from several continents. I’ve watched my Mississauga maple for four seasons now. From its canopy to its strong trunk, I have gazed the middle distance into its structure searching for the meaning to my present uprootedness. There is more knowledge yet to be imparted These branches wave back to me offering reassurance that another season is yet to come. Time to be patient.

Re: Dream

Rare is the night that I don’t dream while I’m asleep. Lately, I’m absorbing the world’s troubles and processing them somehow while in bed. Problem is, come morning, the result of all this subconscious mind spin is not resolution but exhaustion.

Dreaming holds a fascination. In my twenties I picked up lots of books on dream interpretation. Anything by Sigmund Freud I leapt on. Horoscopes held an amusing fascination. Texts didn’t have to be scientific in their approach to questions of a neural nature. I had the classic youthful dreams: going to school in underwear, being chased, escaping a locked room, peeking into a closet, running up an endless inclined plane, flying amongst the clouds. A recurring nightmare through my grade ten year had me staring at a dot in the distance, it got bigger as it approached, gained texture and, just before I identified it as a massive Brillo pad dripping with sticky honey, I woke shouting and in a sweat. I disturbed the household often enough that my mom considered taking me for therapy. To this day if someone asks me how I think I might die, I answer reflexively, “With a blow to my head.”

More positively, I believe I am a dreamer by nature. I love the way the word Dream appears in the songs I’m most fond of humming: Imagine, Dream Weaver, Rainbow Connection, I Dreamed a Dream. In this regard, here’s Rita Wilson singing one of my favourites.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Cm7U9SCFPk

I love to project my thoughts of a better future while daydreaming. I’m looking forward to spending long stretches of time with my grandkids exploring clouds and watching dragonflies. Dream Boards were popular for a while. Cutouts arranged in a collage for the wall or a private journal are made with intention, while dreaming of better days ahead. Wishing is a close cousin to Dreaming; it’s a projection of all that stuff going on in your headspace. Hopefully the wish can be made manifest in order to keep hope alive.

Our grey matter is a marvel. At times I feel may brain is like a massive parabolic antenna , picking up ideas, messages, multiple conscious musings from countless souls. I long to be tuned to the right channel. It could be a super power like Charles Xavier has as Professor X. I could tap into others’ thoughts not to interlope but to understand my own convoluted self just a little bit better.

During my first year of university I went on a date to see a student production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. On the walk back to residence, the girl commented that I seemed like the main character to her.  I thought she was teasing, but I recognized that I had a brooding sort of personality. When we parted at her dormitory door, as if to make up for a potential slight, she kissed me on the cheek and called me a dreamboat. What a night! I strolled off to my room reviewing the words of the Danish Prince; “To sleep, perchance to dream!”

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: Accessible

I’ve wondered what it means to be personally accessible. Throughout my varied relationships with others I have striven to provide access even though I have a reticent personality. I resist the pronouncement, “My door is always open.” Because in truth it isn’t. Just because I consider myself a good listener doesn’t mean I’ll always hear what you say. My spirit has access points. I’ve discovered I’m more open to someone who poses thoughtful questions. The way to my heart is not through my stomach but by accessing my sensitivity to truth, justice and inclusivity.

When my wife and I were looking for a place to live after retirement I thought up an ABC list for a potential location. The A stood for Access, the B for Beauty and the C for Cost (an obvious bottom line in any list). At the time, our accessibility needs were few since we were both retired and healthy. So there was no need to be near work, a hospital or a school since our family days were well behind us. We desired to be near to city services, cultural amenities and community gathering spots all preferably accessed by foot. Victoria B.C. provided on the first two so we had to adjust our budget and expectations to fulfill our dream. I stuffed my desire to curse the cost.

Like other white middle class males I have felt the urge to get huffy when my access is denied. As a teen, at a beach resort I once fumed for several minutes after I showed up bare chested to a ‘No Shirt/No Service’ restaurant and was turned away. “How dare they!” I railed against the authorities. My friends covered me, literally, by finding me a Tee to wear. When you get used to doors opening for you, it’s easier to be shocked when access is denied. We all get a little testy when internet service goes down or water gets shut off in our apartment. I can make myself feel outrage when something appears unjust. I’ll go to lengths to advocate for myself and those I love. The squeaky wheel does get greased.

Some folk strive for access: to the executive washroom, to the halls of power, to the information highway, to the happening concert, to the next big thing. I’ve never been ambitious enough to barge in front of people, yet I have coveted what others have excluded from me. The child in me wants to point and shout, “But how come she has one and I don’t?” In my perfect world no one needs to fight an urge to bud in line, because there is no line. In this world we shape laws that focus on inclusivity. Technology is used to further the goals of accessibility rather than being commodified for the rich. Here, we are taught that our resources are plentiful and not restricted to a pie shape. As a matter of justice, we all have equal access to food, shelter, education, healthcare, employment and recreation. Here, truth opens all doors.

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.