Re: Recognize

A former girlfriend of mine, after several months of cohabitation, recognized that she had been in love with the idea of me, not the real, flawed person who stood before her. That act of recognizing the truth set us both free to move on from a relationship that had become difficult. It can take a hard look in the mirror to re-establish what we know about ourselves. Sometimes we count on another to reveal what we fail to see.

Knowing myself is very important to me. Self-Cognition and Re-Cognition have been ways I have checked in on myself since my adolescent years. I was a geeky introvert in my teens, often taking myself off to ponder things by a nearby creek. That shifting body of water gave me sound solace when things were puzzling me. I could dramatize further and say I gazed into those waters looking for the reflection of the real me and that might be a step too far, even though I did watch a lot of television drama in those days. That creek was a sanctuary where time, and space alone, allowed me to keep track.

When I have let my emotions take over me and my temper gets lost, I do not like who I am. In those heated situations someone might say to me, in words or facial expression, “Who are you?” At those times I feel wretched, less than, and very contrite. It takes time to rebuild the person I thought I was after such a loss of self. For me, even a few moments of self-reflection can make the restorative difference. Sometimes I have sought out others to verify that I have not changed, just experienced a speed bump of growth. The benefit others can bring to the situation may be no more than an assurance that everything will be okay. That sounds so wonderful to hear.

These others we turn to, may be those through whom we recognize ourselves. These people aren’t necessarily our family. They have traits that remind us of who we’d like to be and we adopt them, in a way, because then we can associate with a collective of similar thoughts and attitudes. Birds of a feather do indeed flock together. They become our clan or tribe. They become as familiar as family portraits in our hallways. They provide a picture that is not unlike a mirror, revealing the truth as well as triggering memories that ground us.

Sometimes I have been so lost that finding myself has taken a military style reconnaissance. Regular re-con missions are easier, keeping me abreast of changes and quickly calling me to account. The best thing I can bring to any relationship is the gift of me. Personal knowledge is powerful because it brings clarity and a map into the following day. I can rely on others for guidance, yet most of the time I navigate the various challenges of life whilst on my own recognizance.

Knowing I am bound by myself means I must respond when summoned.

Re: Enthusiasm

At this stage of my existence I refer to myself as a witness. I enjoy being that fly on the wall. It’s a safe vantage point, less messy than open engagement on the field of life. I show my enthusiasm for this role by sharing my opinions in a cheerleading fashion. There is a lot of the Rah, Rah in me still.

My enthusiastic side comes out at surprising moments. I once started exclaiming excitedly over a colourful bird while attending a lesson for a summer job. The instructor of the youth assembled gave me a disdainful look, saying dismissively that there were lots of that species in the area. Another time as a young father I rallied my son to hurry and see ‘the coolest car’ that had just parked near a store my wife was taking us to. My poor little guy got troubled when his mother didn’t share my interest and proceeded with her shopping, leaving our son not knowing where his loyalties should lie.

It’s a treat to see others go public with their enthusiasm. I once happened upon a colleague, new to our city, scampering about unashamedly in a small park within a busy intersection. She was fascinated to find cherry blossoms in the tree above her head and crocus bulbs bursting through green grass. This, on a February day while the rest of the country was still gripped in an icy grasp. I felt her joy.

Hope springing eternal will make me enthuse over what I’m seeing. First moments, signs of promise, a young person earnestly playing a musical instrument or actors skillfully inhabiting their characters may bring tears of rapture. My eagerness sometimes comes in a rush of emotion that can be startling. A few bars of music may stimulate me to remember a time gone by and I’ll want to share the memory with someone, anyone, and right now!

Based on these occasional inspired outbursts I might think of myself as an Enthusiast. What an exulted title! It would be fun to be introduced as such with appropriate fanfare at the entrance to a black tie event. Enthusiast implies you might be an expert in your chosen field or have exceptional talent, neither of which would be true for me. I know a few people who might be deemed bird enthusiasts, jogging enthusiasts or film enthusiasts. When I was a boy I maintained a stamp collection that earned me a scouting badge but like the character in the film Adaptation, I lost interest. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y410SQD2mz8

Thing is, my rhapsodies come in spurts. My passions never last long enough to acquire sporting trophies, fitness goals, artistic excellence or any sort of public acclaim. I just love feeling enthused, however long it lasts.

That’s the heart of the word for me: Enthusiasm is an expression of my love.

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.

Re: Carols

It’s that time of year for Christmas music. The jing-a-ling loop heard in stores and on most radio station playlists may make people get Ebenezer Scrooge grumpy or it may start their yuletide engines. I usually like the first few weeks of this sound and then I start wishing that the season would just hurry itself along. A pun is called for: I’m a Bad-Humming Bug!

For convenience I call all christmasy songs Carols. I’ve sung many Christmas hymns in church choirs and once joined a regional choir that performed favourites in a Holiday Extravaganza! During my elementary teaching days, I even wrote an original song for a play written and performed by my whip-smart fifth graders: “…Don’t be a grump/Get off the couch and don’t be a lump/Share your feelings/Share your life/It all comes true on Christmas night!” The play was way better than my song but a deal was a deal.

I had a short term relationship one Christmas holiday. Her name was Carol. I didn’t tease her. Maybe that was the reason it ended before the new year. In general maybe that is why many people don’t like songs about Christmas; because it reminds them of past loves, broken promises, expectations about presents or turkey dinners gone terribly, horribly bad. Some Carols can certainly stick in your mind. Likely because of the constant airtime during December, one tune or another will bore its way into your head. Earworm is such an appropriate word isn’t it?

That critter can often get lodged in my brain deeply enough that I can find myself belting out Baby It’s Cold Outside while enjoying a hot shower in February, half expecting to be joined by Will Ferrell’s Elf. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U7RMy7Vg0LU
This duet is one of my favourites in the Christmas songbook. I find it to be playfully seductive but some have criticized its lyrics as being inappropriate as we examine what it means to be sexually active in a #metoo atmosphere. This version by Idina Menzel & Michael Bublé from a few years back, featuring child actors, may cause outrage; but it’s so cute!

Still another version of this song that came from a GLEE episode. It appears light hearted yet at the time it aired on television the context seemed so groundbreaking.

Quite a while ago, when my tenor voice was reasonably under control, I got paid to sing for a Worthy Matron of the Order of the Eastern Star. Her choice was The Christmas Song.

Its long sustained notes and lower register were a challenge for me but I pulled it off. Afterwards, one gentleman in the audience sought me out. With a tear in his eye, he told me that my performance reminded him of a fellow soldier who sang this very song at dockside while he and his buddies were boarding transport to return to Canada after WWII.

Some carols never leave us.

Re: Spectrum

In high school physics class I learned that light comes in a spectrum based on wavelength. Red has a longer wavelength than violet. Red is like soft, gentle swells while violet waves are the choppy ones. On a sunny day these visible electromagnetic waves come through the cut glass in my front door and spread the familiar colours red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet in that order, over my entrance wall.

Spectrums can be found or made in our imagination. I find thinking of spectrums useful when I’m searching to understand the range of possibilities in my world. It’s fun to play the game: ’Where are You on the Spectrum?’ For example, with Point of View: Are you more a tree or a forest person? Socially: Are you Introvert or Extrovert? Risk: Averse or Bold? Energy: Mellow or High Strung? Most personality tests are based on determining the answers to questions like these, then sorted to find your ‘type’.

I suspect fewer people are at the edges of any spectrum you can dream up in this game of finding out. Most of us will have personal qualities or preferences that put us somewhere to the left or right of the mid point. That doesn’t necessarily make us dull, just balanced. But strangely, most of us get nervous when it comes to diversity within the spectrum of humanity. We like to have things all the same and we often attempt to keep the outliers in boxes of our creation.

I belong to some online survey groups. The opening questions are intended to sort me into categories. I find myself unable to answer some of these questions because, like most people, I don’t easily fit into a binary world. In the modern marketplace, companies would love to find out who we are on a spectrum. If corporations can determine your likes and dislikes then they can create an algorithm that can match you to one of their products. To me this is another example of profiling. Police departments have been accused of racial profiling as a way to narrow their arrest protocols and Big Business regularly tries to get a handle on their customers, so that they can get easier access to their wallets.

Recent Gay Pride events highlighted the spectral nature of sexuality. The rainbow is a fitting symbol as it suggests that humans, collectively and individually are varietal. On the sex spectrum I feel more masculine than feminine and I appreciate members of the gay community stepping up and out to remind me that we are all a blend of hormones and attitudes. We all need to feel free to express ourselves in ways trivial or universal. I like yelling at ball games as much as I do crying while watching musicals. I try to vote responsibly and I have marched in solidarity for causes that acknowledge diversity. I am grateful that I live in a society that recognizes the value of inclusion.

Many colours make up the light that streams through my window. That light animates all life.

Re: Gratitude

There are many ways to show gratitude in our culture. My preference is to be direct, make eye contact and say, “Thank You!” To me, showing gratitude orally returns the favour immediately. Someone has provided me with something and I wish to return, in kind, by offering the gift of gratitude. I’ve found most people like being thanked while others are quick to fluff it off by saying things like “Not a Problem!” or “No Biggie!” I used to live in a francophone community and my “Merçi!” would often be greeted by “De Rien!” Somehow that has made my gratitude feel less meaningful. That dismissal of my thankfulness used to hurt until I heard their response as, “I like being able to help you.”

I don’t enjoy tipping, with money at least. Many countries consider it insulting to tip. I feel it is unfortunate that financing your gratitude has become so expected in our culture. That leaves a lot of people with less money, like me, with fewer acceptable options to show appreciation when dining out. If tipping is viewed broadly as a form of gratitude (like the old fashioned tipping of one’s hat) then I prefer to write a stellar Trip Advisor review of the restaurant or hotel. Smile if you will, but before the internet opened the door to online appreciation, I used to write letters of thanks to places or people who had provided me with service above and beyond the expected.

Linking Gratitude and Grace can be a topic you might hear when you visit a church. When I am in a state of grace, I can give and receive gratitude more easily. Grace is what I hear when someone says Shalom or Namaste. The film Avatar had its alien characters saying, “I see you.” When I can see another person for the things that make them unique, then I see them for their gifts rather than be fearful of how they might be different from me. When I can be truly grateful for their presence, not just for what they might provide me, then gratitude can inform my response to others. I can be grateful for everything, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. There is a wholeness in giving and receiving, a deep understanding of each other’s importance in the universe. Grace makes us more grateful.

When the big world seems in a state of turmoil (and I feel I am spinning out of control as a result) I find it important to be grateful for things I too easily take for granted: fresh water (from my tap no less), electricity, well stocked food stores, reliable sources of information, restful sleep, clean air, companionship, help when needed.

My young sons used to laugh when I did a happy dance, saying, “Dad must be grateful.” I recall it was something I did first in imitation after watching the cartoon character Snoopy lightly skip about with ears flopping and nose reaching toward the sky.

I’m going to practise my happy dance more often.

Re: Escape

As a young boy I watched the film The Great Escape several times. I felt sadness when my favourite characters were recaptured, or worse, killed after they had executed such a magnificent plan to flee their prisoner of war camp. Taking inspiration, I once hastily plotted my own escape from parental tyranny. I stuffed an old Boy Scout rucksack with supplies and tiptoed to our apartment door only to be confronted by my mother standing with a bag of garbage in her arms. “I see you’re leaving,” she said. “Drop this down the furnace chute on the way out.” I walked to the end of the corridor, dumped the bag down to the incinerator and walked back home, head hanging, resigned to my fate. So much for that impulsive idea, I thought.

In the natural world escape is all about running away from predators. When you can’t fight, you must take flight or be eaten. Prey species are in a constant state of nervous tension, looking over their shoulders for the enemy, sniffing the air for signs of danger.

Yet fleeing isn’t always that dramatic. We can make a decision to ‘get away from it all’ by taking a vacation. Time or finances permitting, separating ourselves from regular routine can provide rest or a new perspective. We can return to our everyday lives refreshed. After retirement, I wanted to go on an adventure with my new bride. I felt like something or someplace was called for that stretched us both into a new day, so we planned an extended stay in New Zealand. For three months we were nomads, living out of a camper van leased from a company aptly named Escape Rentals. Leaving careers, family, friends and our sense of place behind was liberating and challenging.

Environmentally, economically and politically our home planet is challenged right now. Many are trying to hold it together by advocating for a healthier stewardship of the resources our Earth and its people can provide, while others are working on an escape clause: Habitation of space.
Some have even entered lotteries so that they can be the first to colonize Mars! These contestants may feel exhilarated by poetic concepts of escape, like those written by John Gillespie Magee Jr. in High Flight; “Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth…”

In my youth, I used to think space exploration was a continuation of humankind’s adventurous spirit. Now the cynic in me sees only corporations proving they are after the money to be gained from such ventures. I believe we’re being fed lies about the imminent possibility of human habitation of lifeless planets.

To live life we must have air, at the very least, yet some choose to stop breathing. Suicide is the ultimate escape. It is a cause of death that we are uncomfortable acknowledging; as individuals or as a society. When we hear of someone who has fled life we wonder why. Perhaps pondering those times when we, ourselves, have wished to escape, might provide enough insight to begin a conversation.