Re: Devote

Many English words are so close in meaning that they often require explanation after use. For example, I have an issue with the word loyalty yet I have no problem saying I am devoted to someone or something. Faith, Loyalty and Devotion are often linked as closely as siblings in the Etymological family. The latter suggests to me an action of giving one’s self over, sometimes completely and with willful intent. I am devoted to my wife, I am faithful as a result of that intention, yet my loyalty has limits. That can seem strange yet in context it’s consistent.

The conundrum of these three value words is well expressed in the love song, ‘Hopelessly Devoted To You’ made famous by Olivia Newton John in the film Grease. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i52mlmJtyJQ . In my defining way the word Devoted in this song is more like Loyalty. From my past experience, when the head is separated from the heart, decisions are fraught with danger. In my lexicon Loyalty, certainly the blind type, is foolish. I have faith that when both my emotion and my thinking are involved I can permit clear sighted devotion.

Having a career requires a certain level of devotion. Those training to be Olympic athletes would need the highest level of devotion to their goal. Equally, someone who wishes to master a musical instrument might say they are devoted to their art. I have worked with some teachers who exhibited this extreme level of devotion. It’s inspiring to see that high level of passion or devotion. There are many examples in history of religious figures who followed a calling and thus devoted their lives to a cause. That level of devotion moves too close to zealotry for my liking. A devout person I am not, for that means a willingness to forsake all else in an adherence to a defined path.

Whether in religious practise or other areas of a full life, I avoid thinking of myself as a devotee. Likewise I resist calling myself a fan of something or someone. Both terms suggest a slavery to a cause, or an overwhelming commitment to an idea. When we get ourselves so wrapped up in something that we lose sight of our original intention, we can move across the border from carefully considered thought into hopeless obsession.

During my church years I met many who espoused the practice of daily devotions. Some on the zealot end of the spectrum would rise at the same time each morning to follow their routine. Others saw value in spending a few minutes each day with an activity that centred their busy minds. These activities don’t need to be of a religious or scriptural nature. I have found reward in a singular moment gazing intently at a bee as it wiggles through a cluster of sweet flowers. Or, devoting time to listen to what my wife has to say when she returns home from an adventure makes me feel closer to her and brings me the peace I desire.

Re: Fado

Don’t you wish there was a word that exactly described the way you were feeling at its moment of intensity? Right now I’m feeling a sense in my chest of heaviness but not really heaviness. It’s a sadness or melancholy, but not really. I’ve a yearning for something I can’t quite put my finger on yet I know I’ve felt this way before. I don’t really need anything and I’m not wanting anyone to worry about me. Indescribable! In Portugal these feelings might be defined as saudade. In France maybe the word ennui comes close. I’ve been known to use the word angst to describe these rainy day feelings. Yet I’m not glum.

Feelings are inevitably hard to express because our words come from our thinking brain and often the emotional brain denies us access to its word bank. When emotions overcome us, people might ask what is on our mind and we’d be at a loss to describe it. That’s one reason art is so important. Through artistic expression we are able to show our feelings without needing words. We may sing the blues in the shower, redecorate a bedroom, go for a walk to commune with trees or read a book to allow the words of others to light our way through the mystery and misery of the unexplainable.

As a young parent I used to ask my children, when they were in an emotional spin, to take a crayon and show me how they were feeling on a piece of paper or cardboard. Sometimes they just scribbled through their tears. After calmness entered, we sat together looking over what had been created. The effort to represent something beyond words provided an opening for dialogue and deeper understanding.

In Portugal a musical form called Fado is an attempt to capture the feelings of saudade.

It’s difficult to listen to a Fado singer and not feel moved to tears. I’ve felt a yearning coupled with a realism. It is a musical genre that can awaken things that we may wish to keep hidden.

Strangely I felt this same feeling of saudade while talking to Newfoundlanders. Particularly if the topic turns to cod fishing or maritime rescues. Maybe it is a common awareness of those who live by and from the sea. The salt air finds a way into the souls of these men and women.

My most recent saudade has come from my experience with Canada’s observance of Remembrance Day. This year I took part in a gathering of two dozen individuals from age twenty to ninety who chose to wear a white poppy. https://peacepoppies.ca/
I wore my white poppy because it came closest to describing my feelings about war. https://globalnews.ca/news/4550164/white-poppies-remembrance-day/

My lapel poppy pin expressed for me, without words, why I attended this Nov. 11 service and therefore reduced my angst. Perhaps I’ll write a Fado song next year.

Re: War

I had a conversation with my dad yesterday. In my day dream, we were both in our sixties and reflecting on our youth. Chewing the fat, as two old codgers are want to do. My dad was in his prime during the war years. By comparison I had privilege in my youth, my hay day, my halcyon years. From the age of 19-23, I was in university.

University! That time when many lucky ones are allowed to think of nothing more than sex and study. We expanded our mind and body in glorious ways in a cloistered environment. I recalled a walk back from the nearby city centre, measurably drunk and talking with a friend about how the university campus is so different from the real world. Indeed! It was engineered that way so we could concern ourselves with the importance of learning and not be caught up in the machinations of the ‘outside’.

Then I heard my dad’s story. Born in 1920, he entered his glorious early twenties ducking bullets instead of making discoveries in the lab or reading the classics of literature. From my current vantage point I could see my university days with gratitude, as part of my growing up. My dad must have mused over his emergence into adulthood as a trial by fire. I saw much to love in my life’s remembrance while he was talking stoically about soldiering on, in the face of it all. When he paused, I recalled this scene in ‘The War’ and I felt affection for all that he had meant to me.

In 1961,U.S. President Eisenhower, a former General in WWII, warned of a threat to governments. He named it the “Military-Industrial Complex.” A film, ‘Wag The Dog’ showed how easy this warped, corporate idea can take root. We have seen since then, that the business of war makes some people very rich while many, many more die.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNDmDZi05dY .

What word would you pick as the opposite of war? Peace? Ghandi was a model for passive resistance and he was a creative thinker. War suggests aggressive action so I believe an active word is required to counter it. War is destructive so its opposite must be creation. Others have written about the power that creativity has to reduce the risk of war. I am starting to think that art can be taken as an antidote to war.

In Boy Scouts I learned about fire safety. To start a fire you need three things: heat, fuel and oxygen. To have war you must have fear, social division and lies. Like a fire, war cannot exist without its three elements. Remove fear and you breed peace, create an atmosphere of social tolerance and you have no oxygen for hatred. Without lies there is no reason to doubt.

War, what is it good for? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=01-2pNCZiNk

War is over. If you want it.