Re: Heart

My heart skipped a beat the other day. In fact it skipped several beats, enough to make me wonder what was going on. My son-in-law just happened to be stopping by for lunch so I asked him to take me to the hospital instead.

It was the prudent thing to do. Heart disease claims more lives in Canada than any other illness. I had been having heart palpitations (what I called kittens chasing each other in my chest) with some regularity for the past several months. My wife and I had agreed that, ‘the next incident’ would be the one where I would go to emerg. I considered my father, who died while on holiday in Portugal due to his heart health issues. He was only seven years older than I am right now. Memento mori.

My son is thirty years younger than I am. He and his wife have just bought their first house. After the move they enjoyed reporting a heartfelt sense of permanence, saying the decision was a “coup de coeur” experience. News of their combined joy pulled at my heart strings as though a song of love and longing had just arrived after a commercial break. A song such as this favourite of mine by Tony Bennett. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6DUwMnDxEs

There are many songs written from the heart. Some popped into my head as I waited for a doctor upon entering the hospital’s emergency department. It was a large open area room akin to a Costco warehouse. Direction arrows were taped to the concrete floor, clerks stood at their posts. Instead of food samples or coupons I answered questions and was directed to a succession of stations where I was tested and questioned further. I got labelled then someone came with a wheelchair to take me through the final portal. Here, in a small room, I was told to lay on a bed around which gathered no fewer than seven medics. They stopped my heart twice in an attempt to reset it from a high of 185BPM. I felt well attended to, so I wasn’t frightened.

While being monitored and tested further, I listened to the busy sounds of the ER setting. I contemplated the news cycle since late 2019 of Covid calls to action in hospitals around the world. Many unrelated deaths occurred because folks like me were resisting going for medical attention for other ailments, like the atrial fibrillation which became my diagnosis on this day. Surprisingly my heart beat returned to normal as quickly as it had raced to my attention. Latest incident over, I have appropriate medication to forestall a similar occurrence and an appointment for a follow-up consultation with a cardiologist.

I felt gratitude that I had avoided a stroke which I was told was a potential with my condition. I was heartened to see our health care system work so well on my behalf. I’m happily feeling the beat of a consistent rhythm, giving me hope for what my future may hold.

Re: Panic

I have a panic room in my head and it works the opposite of a safe haven. I’ve never seen a film style panic room; where actors portraying people victimized by home invaders find sanctuary. My panic room is a room in my mind. My panic room must have doors and windows to let fresh air in. I’m only there because I have been stifled by repeating thoughts that whirl me into a panic response. My panic room door must not be locked for then a key may be lost, the key to understanding how I got there in the first place, even if the key is found the latch may be corroded, the knob broken, a sealed room of past hurts will continue to mildew with dark mold teeming with disease. No confidence can be regained whilst in the panic room of my mind.

I once helped a student take the moment necessary to come out of his panic room. Something triggered him to rise beside his desk. I called his name. He had the posture of a cornered animal. He started towards the door, tripping and falling to the floor. Students quieted as he lay there, eyes darting. It was not a seizure but some strange force had seized him. Taking advantage of his stillness I moved beside him and placed my palm lightly over his heart. His breathing calmed and his classmates remained breathless. He looked at me. He sat up. I asked his friend to accompany him to the office so the secretary could call his parents. He left for the day. It wasn’t until year’s end that he mentioned the incident and thanked me. I told him I would always remember what happened as though I had been guided: The right person, in the right place, at the right time.

I most feel panic when things seem out of order. My way seems barred. Access is being denied. I feel trapped, painted into corner, claustrophobic, breathless, suffocated. In the midst of this anxiety attack I feel there is no way out, yet why I enter there in the first place is always a mystery to me. I don’t know the why of panic’s approach, yet I’m getting better at the how of waving it goodbye.

A Yoga instructor once advised me to see disagreeable thoughts as flowing through and not lingering. Deep breathing helps. Calm may be the opposite of panic. I like the way some pronounce calm with a noticeable ‘l’. When stressed I will linger with the middle section of the word repeatedly sounding it out as ‘c-ah-m’. I’ve developed strategies as I’ve aged to minimize the risk of entering into a panic response. I have medicine that brings comfort when needed. Just knowing it’s there in the cabinet is often enough for relief. I’ve learned to visualize safe places; like a verandah with a swing. Peace is found there, sitting for a spell with a cooling lemonade, taking time to gather my thoughts, settling me into a fresh perspective.

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: 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: Distraction

Covid Pandemic, Climate Crisis, Trumpian America, Rainy Day Mondays; are some of the persistent bad news realities of our current world. Sometimes it seems like staying in bed all day is the right choice. Logically we can’t escape from these inconvenient truths so we thrash about trying to find a distraction. Even for a moment the respite a distraction provides can seem like a holiday from inevitable doom. There is good news to find these days, but you have to be watchful. It’s also incumbent on us all not to be like Rachel Dratch’s character, Debbie Downer. We all know someone like her can be as negatively infectious as any virus. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qse8erP8zEk

A friend once told me she devoted one day a week as a ‘techno-free’ 24 hours. She eschewed devices that brought her news, while choosing to distract herself by walking around town, meandering in parks, or hanging out at a coffee shop watching others. She also loved to read, my favourite distraction, and would often bring me wonderful suggestions that helped me broaden my world view. I admire these approaches to shutting out the busy world. It’s way healthier than was my sister’s distraction of choice: alcohol. There really is nothing that can make problems completely disappear, unless you are a magician.

A magician is skilled at the art of distracting the audience. This talent has been called The Art of Misdirection: While you are busy looking here, the trickster will do something over there. This brings distraction to an art form and I find it so very amusing. As a child I marvelled at the escapes of Harry Houdini. I loved watching the sleight of hand of Canadian Doug Henning and the theatrics of American illusionist David Copperfield. Recently I have been turned on to the unbelievable close-up work of the British magician called Dynamo (Steven Frayne) and stunned by master pickpocket Apollo Robbins, who is able to distract the audience so well one begins to doubt one’s own common sense. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZGY0wPAnus

Along with word pursuits, watching others is a favourite distraction for me; bless those entertainers. Some people are distracted by the joys of cooking and eating, not me. I can lose myself in a challenging crossword and have been known to stare out to sea for great lengths of time. Thinking really is my favourite distraction. I’m contented getting lost in my thoughts. It’s a form of meditation; I just have to be aware that as I ponder, I dwell longer on positives. For example; our newspaper recently reported that in one month 170 people had died in our province from drug overdose while in that same month, in that same province, 415 births had been recorded. How does one deal with those two numbers?

People have been distracted by music throughout history. Music can bring a moment of peace, while directing our attention to a more promising land.
Curtis Mayfield led us well. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VOXmaSCt4ZE

Re: Performance

I miss performances. The COVID19 pandemic has created an environment where culture has been a victim. China’s lunar new year holiday celebrations were affected. Italy and Spain curtailed their street cafe traditions. European countries lost their football community. I have a friend who lives for sports and he mourns the absence of watching a high performance team. He and I were both shocked when the summer Olympics in Japan had to be cancelled. What a blow to all the athletes who were robbed of the chance to perform, after years of practise, for a coveted medal of Gold, Silver or Bronze.

A large part of my enjoyment in life comes from attending a play, a dance or musical performance. I’m always awed at the work it takes to bring a piece of art to the stage. It’s thrilling to witness a one of a kind performance. I take great delight in watching young artists get their first taste at a role. When I was in elementary school I took part in public speaking competitions and my sister excelled at baton twirling. Together we once auditioned for a youth talent competition at our local television station. Our parents would admit, after we came off the stage, that they experienced sheer terror over a potentially bad outcome. We were just delighted it was over so we could go to the promised dinner and movie.

We have a performing arts college in our community and many theatre companies ask the students to perform with more veteran actors as part of their course work. These shows validate the effort it takes to make a performance count for something special. I wonder how these student actors will realize their dream of performing in front of a large audience, when large crowds are scary places to be, even while a death dealing virus is on the loose. 

The most uncomfortable times in my teaching career were when I had to undergo a mandatory performance review. Working with senior teachers during the practice teaching sessions at Teacher’s College was tense enough, but being under the watchful gaze of a principal for a week created performance anxiety. Even when I felt I performed well it was hard to deflect the feeling of judgement. Performing artists must have very thick skins.

Television can fill the need to watch performers showing their skills. There is a plethora of talent shows on all major networks right now. The monotonous commercials get in the way of me engaging with the backstory behind each performer. Sometimes I tire of the need producers feel is necessary for me to know the details of each of the artist’s lives. Like a magic trick, sometimes I just want to be amazed by the performance, without knowing the details of how, why or what came before it. 

I was recently moved to tears by this work from the genius of Lars Von Trier. The power of performance is breathtaking, the magic of creativity is spellbinding, the result is inspiring.

Re: Pain

Recently I opted for some elective surgery. While in hospital, the most frequent question posed by the nurse was, “Are you experiencing pain?” This question was clarified with, “On a scale of one to ten.” Aside from coping with the real pain, this question caused stress pain. I couldn’t identify the pain level, since it varied from moment to moment. The consistency of the pain was also a factor: there was dull ache, sharp spasms, performance anxiety, all over ague, perpetual angst, stiff muscular knots and constant ringing in my ears. It was impossible to assist the nurse’s valid question because I clearly couldn’t un-sort my feelings.

When it comes to pain, I’m a baby. I can take the sight of blood or a nasty bump but when I feel a low grade headache coming on I run to the medicine cabinet. I keep all the brands of pain relievers so that I can cover all the bases when pain strikes. I think of pain as discomfort, not the, ‘Oh God I’ve just been shot!’, sort of experience. Lucky me. I’ve never had an extreme level of pain. I’ve only been in one fistfight in my life. My sparring partner proclaimed to the grade six class one day that he was going to bring ‘A whole lotta pain’ my way. My classmates witnessed the choosing of the location for the fight later that day and some even showed up to see the result. It was over in a few minutes; blows were struck, noses bloodied, honour restored. I went home after feeling manly yet bruised. I was offered an ice pack and a hot cup of tea.

Recently I’ve been enjoying the drama of a British TV series, Call the Midwife.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tY0eUynAOY . The episodes have renewed my respectful belief that I could never give birth to a child. In reality, I’ve been a father to three sons, watching my wife handle the painful moments of childbirth. Now each time I saw a mother crying out to the television midwives I’ve moved into the room with them, almost becoming them, as though they hold a painful memory. Yet after the TV birth there is joy! How can this be? I’d picture myself immediately asking for knock-out drops.

We use the word Pain in our language frequently. Someone at the office is a ‘Pain in the Neck’ or worse, ‘A Pain in the Butt’. When we were bringing bad news we used to lead into the announcement by saying, “I’m pained to say this…”. Most country songs are about painful breakups or loss. This kind of emotional pain is surely at the heart of the OXY crisis.
https://www.pharmacytimes.com/contributor/marilyn-bulloch-pharmd-bcps/2018/08/how-oxycodone-has-contributed-to-the-opioid-epidemic

Even though I am British born I find it hard most times to offer a stiff upper lip to discomfort. I will take an easy fix, just as long as it comes over the counter and is medically tested. I hope I never know what real pain is.

Re: Phobia

The word Phobia is actually a suffix that has morphed into a word through common usage. You might say someone is phobic if they are demonstrating anxiety. A person may tell you they have a phobia to something. Both Phobia and Phobic can be words used to exaggerate the fear that someone feels. Lucy tries to explain phobias in this scene from A Charlie Brown Christmas. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8SDztycKwY

I don’t like to admit I’m fearful. That’s like showing your hand in a card game. My fears don’t tend to limit me in the pursuit of a fulfilling life. I believe that’s where phobias come in: When your fears direct you to stop normal functions. I’ll admit to feeling discomfort over certain things that, in the extreme, might be phobias. For example: I don’t enjoy crowds (enochlophobia), I like to be inside before dark (noctiphobia), I avoid tight spaces (claustrophobia). The latter fear I can trace back to a bizarre game my mom and dad used to inflict on me when I was very young. When I asked to jump into their bed on a weekend morning they would wedge me with their elbows between their bodies so I couldn’t escape. Tough to know why I would ever come back for more of that but to this day it’s a challenge for me to stand in a packed subway car.

We have hired someone to renovate our bathroom. The workers’ first day on the job was a highly anxious time for me. Despite being confident about the decision to go ahead with this project, the noise and numbers of people involved produced a fear of the future reaction. What will they find behind the walls? Will they break anything important? Is it going to cost me more than budgeted? I know I’m not alone when it comes to Chronophobia, especially in the Anthropocene Age. It seems hard to look positively to the coming days in our current climate, political or otherwise.

The politics of fear cannot help us make good decisions yet this is the currency used by many to buy our vote. Xenophobia is a word that is being used to legitimize racist statements and activities. Our cave dwelling relatives had reason to fear others. In our modern world we need others, we need the collective, we need diversity, if we are to continue to survive as a species.

The antonym of Phobic is Phile. I’d rather promote the latter as a way to describe my positive nature. I love books, so I am a Bibliophile. I appreciate the artistry in clocks, so I am a Chronometrophile. I thoroughly enjoy film so I call myself a Cinephile. I’m proud of my heritage despite its flaws so I am an Anglophile.

There are just as many Phobias as there are Philes. Two sides of the same coin so to speak. We must find balance yet when our fears dominate let’s hope there is someone to watch over us. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y92LxyuNFZ0

Re: Resilience

If I am resilient I can survive change. I may not completely bounce back from the trauma nor will I necessarily become stronger simply by dodging a proverbial bullet. My experiences may make me better able to cope the next time a challenge arises. Trouble is, there may be enough difference in the new situation as to make my response difficult. I must rely on my belief that, given time and adequate support, things will get better.

One of the best things teachers, parents and coaches help us discover is our personal resilience. I can credit my years as a Boy Scout with teaching me a lot about resilience. I was instructed to hope for the best and prepare for the worst, to seek shelter when confronted with a storm, and to try one more time. I remember one portage in particular during a canoe trip through Algonquin Provincial Park. I had felt a head cold starting the morning of the third day into the trip. The paddling part was a blessing as the breeze cooled the fever my body was developing. Once out on the land and weighed down by packsack and canoe the going got tough. Biting insects could not be swatted and our path was through boot sucking mud. Each step was agony. I was young and wanted to cry. I faltered briefly and looked up as my Akela now stood near me. Quietly he asked, “Can you go to the next tree?” I repositioned my load and said yes I could. He walked beside me until the tree and said, “Can you make it to the next hill?” Somehow I could and just past the hill was the location of our camp for the night.

I recall having my meal that night in one metal bowl; a ground beef mixture, cookies and chocolate pudding. I tagged out of the next activity to get some rest in my tent, quickly falling asleep. Much to my surprise, my Sixer came to wake me for Mug-Up. My body still aching, I was persuaded by this familiar before-bedtime tradition of a warming tin mug of hot chocolate, so I rallied myself. The next morning I felt like I could canoe forever, no matter what might lay ahead on the trail. I was a modern day voyageur. I was invincible!

A resilient attitude is elastic. It bends like the marsh reed to the wind’s insistence. Rigidity can cause us to snap under pressure. Sometimes we can only respond to the change that blows our way. Other times we can make a change that will bring us closer to who we want to be. We can build resilience in mind, body and spirit by being watchful for opportunities that test us to be better.

What Akela had taught me that day was that I had more resilience than I ever imagined. By shrinking my goal I could continue. By sometimes taking baby steps I wasn’t diminishing myself. By trying one-more-time I found I could discover something new about the person I was becoming.

Re: Assurance

There is great satisfaction in figuring something out and then taking the time and energy to make it all work. Artists rehearse and rehearse. Editing has a purpose: to try to remove doubt, to seek assurance that the work will be the best it can be.

I think of the word assurance in a forward way. By planning ahead I feel I can cover whatever eventualities might occur and then “come hell or high water” I have some assurance that my plan will reach a preferred outcome. I’m not one for leaving things to chance. I don’t want to gamble my life with a ‘wait and see’ attitude.

Assurance is different from insurance in my mind. Insurance is a bet you make that something is going to go wrong and then you will be compensated. I don’t want compensation. I want confirmation that I have taken steps to reduce the inevitable risks of life. Shit will happen. Assurance is what I provide for myself by checking. I look to see if I am on the right track. I refer to my self designed map to assuage doubt.

I can be slothful, but only after my plans have been made. My plans often come in the form of forecast. I like to see the future as I would like it to be, then take the steps to arrive there. It’s logical to me. Sometimes I will plan down to the smallest detail, laying out various scenarios in my head. The downside of this is that I will often be disappointed.

Being a planner has its benefits and its baggage. When you wish to be in control you must commit time to planning. Truth is, I am not a ‘random’ person. That philosophy appeals to me on a Zen level; live for today and all that. But randomness is too close to chaos for my liking. My planning is my security blanket that I wrap around me when chaos reigns. I feel I have developed a set of strategies for when I have to surrender control. I’m getting better at going with the flow when others are making the decisions yet my patience is still tested until I have some assurance of the outcome.

Some have said that plans are for fools because there is always the unknown eventuality. Robbie Burns in his Ode to a Mouse captured this in the oft repeated line; “the best laid schemes o’ mice and men”. By seeking assurance I am not so naive as to believe that I can eliminate all random acts. I know that you can’t plan for everything. There are some things that we just can’t imagine might happen, these are the unpredictables or the “unknown unknowns” as Dick Cheney once said. He also spoke of known unknowns, which I believe, with planning, you can ameliorate to some extent.

I want adventure in my life. I want to explore even the deepest forest. Assurance to me is about feeling confident that, even if I do get lost, I can find my way back home.