Re: Important

At the beginning of every decision making process I ask myself a question: What’s important? Those who wish to defund the police have likely asked that question. If they have, I hope their answer is less about police and more about the wider desire for more appropriate care for the members of the community. I believe policing is important in a community yet so is adequate mental health services, affordable housing and well funded schools. When it comes to a healthy world many things are important.

Everyone believes in causes. We feel it is socially important to give to something. Sometimes we don’t think of ourselves as a good cause. Deciding what’s important is really personal; requiring observation, a solid evaluation and then judgement. We can agree that human lives are important. But which lives? Here is the question for our age and every other through history. BLM highlights not just the importance of one race of people, just as Feminism is not only about the importance of one gender. During COVD19 times some politicians have actually decided that the economy is more important than the lives of a ‘few’ elderly folks. We all are important, to the economy, to our community, to our families, to ourselves.

I’m cursed with these thoughts that everything is important, when sometimes nothing really matters. Aristotle once commented; “Poetry is something more philosophic and of graver import than history.” In my philosophy I’m a forest person so every tree matters. A range of people; Ani DiFranco, Oscar Wilde, artists mostly, have a history of promoting equality in their work. A view that all people and things have import to the world at large is gaining strength, particularly as societies navigate a climate crisis. There is some truth to the poetic notion that a butterfly’s behaviour has consequences far beyond a flight to find nectar. More importantly, human’s must be earnest about their impact on the environment. The question of what’s important doesn’t have to be an either/or listing. Individually and collectively we can create priorities, then set a timeline for action that can have a graded outcome. 

The heading for a series of columns I once wrote for a daily newspaper was called ‘Just Because’. The title came to me when I was walking for no real reason on a circular nature trail.  William James, sometimes referred to as the Father of American Psychology, once said,”We never fully grasp the import of any true statement until we have a clear notion of what the opposite untrue statement would be.” At the time of my short hike, stuck in the mire of self importance, I surprisingly needed to find out what wasn’t important, before I could see what was. I could write, for ‘no real reason’ because sometimes it feels important to write without any expectation of outcome. Sometimes the importance of things can only be determined after the event. 

Like in the film Groundhog Day, perhaps history must repeat before we discover what’s  important. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GncQtURdcE4

Re: Move

A fellow my age moved into our complex last weekend. He had a small rental moving van, his daughter and another young fellow were helping. I introduced myself and welcomed him to the neighbourhood. He puffed, “ I’m getting too old for this moving business. Next time I’ll pay someone.” Like me, he had concluded that he was coming to the end of his moving on, moving in, moving out options. I figure my next move will be my last. I’m no longer as young as Billy Joel when he recorded this ode to movement; then again neither is he.

Many of us can describe multiple moves within our lifetime; some comical, some hair-raising, some ill advised, some work related, some to upgraded digs and others for practical reasons only. We move because we can and we move when we have no choice. In our youth we can relish the feeling of being on the move; people to see, places to go. Couch surfing is a great descriptor of an adolescent’s freedom of movement. A backpack and a place to lay your head are all the requirements needed for adventure. When we get older our joints are less moveable, we’ve accumulated things and we’re settled into our routines. The movement that becomes most important is that of our bowels, preferably on a regular basis.

I’m emotionally moved more frequently these days. A song might move me to tears. A conversation might move me to action. I can be moved by a single line in a film. I find moving pictures, or movies, to be aptly named. Who doesn’t laugh at the movements of Charlie Chaplin, the physical humour of Dick Van Dyke or Melissa McCarthy. I found Earnest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast yawn inducing yet his poignantly perfect The Old Man and the Sea continues to feed my emotions and my thoughts.

“Move it!” would be something my mom would shout when she was exasperated with my sister and me as we lollygagged before a trip. Getting in the car usually meant a long uncomfortable drive in hot muggy weather to visit someone we didn’t like. We had several household moves during my childhood, always to find a dwelling my folks could afford to rent. My favourite move was to a falling apart farmhouse which had a chicken coop where my job was to collect the eggs every morning. Later we moved up, status-wise, to actually owning a small semidetached house in suburbia, which unfortunately took me away from all my high school friends. I’ve only cried harder twice more in my life. In my case it’s probably not coincidental that emotion contains the word motion, i.e. movement.

My latest move came after retirement, to a land of milder climate. I’m no longer moved by the sight of gently falling snow, nor angered by the need to shovel the driveway. I’ve removed all reference to winter. This home finds me moved by the plaintive call of the gull and the beauty of the seashore.

Re: Settle

I settle into my favourite chair as I write this. I like the fact that I chose to settle in this part of the world. My journey, both geographical and metaphorical, was not unlike the first western white folk who settled into their covered wagons to look for newness in a promising land. I wasn’t nearly as bold as the First Peoples who ventured across the Bering Straight either, but I like to think I share their curiosity.

Sediment settles to the bottom through a fluid. That’s a movement that is the result of gravity not of willpower. And that may be why the notion of settling has gotten such a bad rap. I could have had that job, relationship, friend, pet, apartment, lifestyle or meal but I settled for this one instead. The implication is that you took the lazy way out and ended up with something less. Yet those people who seek out a new place to live or think, do so for very definite reasons. It’s a very willful decision to leave what you know for the risk of the unknown. To find a new place to settle requires a gravitas that only comes when options are weighed and hope is filed for another day.

I remember a discussion with my parents regarding my decision to marry. My mother and father had different questions to ask. I brought them comfort with my answers. I felt they basically wanted to know if I was going to find comfort with the woman I had chosen to be my wife. Comfort, security, love, promise, and the idea that I was going to settle down didn’t sound boring to me; it sounded like heaven. I clearly remember my mother rising from the discussion table with resolve, declaring, “That’s settled then.”

Settlements come in all forms and figurations. They can involve formal contracts or the wink of an eye, they can be held in a moment or transcend lifetimes. They can include a subtle willingness to go along for now, or acknowledge a deep acceptance of something that will never change.

The other day after a meal at a restaurant I asked the waiter, “Can I settle the bill please?” My wife always teases me about my formal nature and even this archaic phrase, slipping out of my mouth so fluidly, surprised me. After the meal is eaten, after the words have been spoken, when the party is over, there is an accounting that must take place. Ultimately, things must be settled before a decision to move on can be made.

Sometimes it feels that we are weighed down so much by our grief or our wishful thinking, that sinking to the bottom is guaranteed. Yet a person is not a speck of sediment. We are a complex mix of our past, with desires for the future, trying to make something of our present. We are dealing with daily memories of loss while maintaining a confidence that we can continue to make valid, positive decisions.

Despite the fact of gravity, I believe we can always choose to boldly go.