Re: Love

I’ve hesitated a while before doing a posting on the word Love. Many people are either uncomfortable using this word or frustrated because it doesn’t do justice to their feelings. Love is impossible to explain yet easy to know: Like trying to describe a colour. Metaphors and similes bring you close to an understanding but the uniqueness of love resists analogies. It can come in spectrums, shades and categories. Love as a theme can be overused and also under appreciated. It’s likely the most talked about word in the English language but we find it hard to say the phrase, “I love you.” The language of love may have its very own unlettered alphabet. Love is felt but not seen. We know it though; just as the movement of a leaf can tell us that air exists. Perhaps love is undefinable, yet it is as real as in this heartfelt song by John Denver. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rKhBPps7_Fc

In an effort to define love, we often try to qualify it. We talk of unconditional love, puppy love, unrequited love or romantic love in a desire to place the love-ness into a category. I recall a conversation with a friend when I had told him I thought I had fallen in love. To confirm my news he asked, “So do you Really love her?” Without that qualification he just couldn’t accept my announcement. Funny, how we feel a need to know the kind of love being discussed before we can buy into the reality.

I don’t believe any art form can be created without love. In this way I believe Love equals Art. A life’s creative work cannot be summed up in any other way but without referencing love. Poems of love tell of yearning, exultation, catastrophe and pain. Painters have described love as the light by which they work. Plays and novels have used countless words in exhilarating ways to give meaning to this single word; Love. Art tends to avoid any kind of labelling or judgement, when it comes to love. A song about love is open to the listener’s interpretation. We can judge, if we want, who or what the singer is referring to. Or we can just bask in the splendour of loving words, such as those found in this masterpiece by Rolf Løvland, sung by Josh Groban. https://www.youtube.com/watch/aJxrX42WcjQ

Growing up, we soon learn that love can hurt, be used against us, bring us hope or lift us to heights unimagined. Love can tangle us in knots of indecision or leave the way clear of doubt. As I get older I’ve lost the need to categorize love. People can have loving feelings towards all manner of things; human or not, living or not. Love is energy, moving out from us and returning. Love supports us, enabling us to be the best that we can be. My advice to the lovelorn is to be watchful. Love is everywhere. It is there when someone says, “I’ve got your back.”

Re: Kind

I’ve heard many authors at signing events respond to someone’s gushing praise of their work with a rote rendition of, “You are very kind.” The use of the word kind, in this context, devalues it. We are not being kind when we show someone how much they are appreciated, we are being grateful. I wish we could see acts of kindness more often. It is not something that is regularly practised, yet when we see someone helping another who has stumbled we recognize a kind heart. I believe in kindness as a form of love. If more readily applied in our behaviour it can improve life on earth. 

In University I studied Life Sciences, particularly wildlife biology. I became familiar with the work of Carl Linnaeus, a scientist who developed a system of classification of living things based on precise particulars of biological design. I had fun sorting specimens into well defined categories by kind, using observable physical characteristics. These days it is much easier and more conclusive to use DNA to sort living things. Consequently we have discovered that some species are closer kin than we could ever have imagined.

Some people say they have a kindred spirit, someone so close to their kind of thinking/feeling that they form a bond. The fictional character Anne Shirley, of Green Gables fame, talked a lot about this kind of friendship. While she gathered kindling for the wood stove she had thoughts of becoming less isolated as an orphan and more kin to the kindhearted community that would become her home. Author Lucy Maude Montgomery writes beautifully of a time where manners and kindness abound yet her stories are not all sweetness. She doesn’t shy away from issues found in a closed society. For example, she exposes Avonlea villagers who could be quick to tell outsiders to “Go home to your own kind!” Since the first printing of Ms. Montgomery’s widely popular stories, there has been numerous interpretations. The latest in Canada is ‘Anne with an E’. This television series is so charmingly sweet it could kill you with its kindness.

Babies, like birds, quickly show they prefer to flock together. Kiley Hamelin has done research work at the University of British Columbia showing that even young babies can sort puppet identifiers according to whether they are helpful or not. They can determine the kindness in others at a very early age, suggesting that figuring out who is kind among us may be a matter of survival and integral to forming bonds of friendship and family.

In British Columbia, Canada, residents have been lucky to have a Provincial Health Officer named Dr. Bonnie Henry. She is held in high regard for the work she is doing to control the spread of the COVID19 virus. At news briefings she is not afraid to show her humanity, often crying over grim news,. Her advisories and updates on the pandemic usually end with a familiar mantra, “Be Kind, Be Calm, Be Safe.” Indeed: Kindness comes first.

Re: Gluttony

When I think of a gluttonous person the picture that comes to mind is someone very large; of the size of characters in Pickwick Papers or akin to sumo wrestlers, that kind of large. Of the ancient deadly sins I match this word with Greed. One and the same; Greed and Gluttony are about over indulgence, over spending, and over doing almost anything. I’m referring to the act of extravagance. It’s not about fat shaming but living within your means. Gluttony to me is about consuming more than you need. The best skit I have ever seen on this subject is the revolting tale of Mr. Creosote as told by the Monty Python crew from the film, The Meaning of Life.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GxRnenQYG7I

Paul Anka is credited with this guiding phrase: ‘Moderation in all things, including moderation.’ My mom used to like that quote. She was part of a post WWII tribe that had little in the way of material things. When things got comparatively better, the flood gates to excess were opened. When I was growing up she would have spells of acquisition that accompanied her care free attitude. One month we may have been looking for coins between the sofa stuffing and the next (with overtime pay in the envelope) treats were allowed. When the pantry invariably became depleted I might be inclined to ask if I could have the last of the jam. In response, Mom would flip her hand, “When it’s gone, it’s gone!”, which made me feel as guilty as sin.

Apparently, there are seven sins: Pride, Greed, Wrath, Envy, Gluttony, Lust and Sloth. I was taught not to be lazy, to control my temper, to not whine about what others may have, to measure my wants, and that if I boasted my head would surely swell. Of all those early lessons I think I absorbed, with lasting success, that gluttony is bad. I do believe that too much of anything leads to a serious disconnect with others and is responsible for the damage we have done to this finite planet. I’m told this is a homesick-like feeling called solastalgia. When it’s gone, it’s gone.

Preaching minimalism didn’t get me far in conversations with my sister, who like our parents before us, chose to maximize her paycheque with payday loans of one sort or another. She was always reaching for the proverbial brass ring, hoping to keep the ride going even when resources ran out. In her tribe I was considered a stuffed shirt when I questioned, “How much stuff do you really need?” 

On Twitter, #taxtherich often gets attached to rants about inequity, inequality and gluttony. Building a consumer based society has had its negative drawbacks. We’ve designed a land of plenty where almost any fantasy can be explored, meanwhile obesity, drug use, suicide and multi-billionaires are ubiquitous. We are encouraged to buy the latest and trash the once repairable: There will always be more. Our gluttony has squandered our precious home. Wastefulness is on my list of the new deadly sins.

Re: Tease

When I was a kid I thought Christmas Eve was such a tease. My mom would mention that times had been financially hard and that we mustn’t expect much under the tree. As an adult, I came to the conclusion that this was her way of reducing expectations so that when Christmas morning arrived we would all be awestruck that Santa had somehow pulled off one of his miracles. I think my mom’s approach to Christmas morning gift giving was the reason I often developed a stomach ache on December 24th.

This example also taught me about the larger pattern in my mom’s behaviour towards others: set them up with what seemed like the truth, orchestrate a reversal, say you were just having fun, accuse them of not being able to take a joke. Sadly, she lost many friends using this strategy of social engagement, including her own daughter.

My mom was a natural born teaser, yet she hated the comedy of Don Rickles; a man who made a career from taking the mickey out of people.

His use of mockery and ridicule at an audience member’s expense disturbed me. While I recognize that many people think teasing is all in good sport, my experience with my mom, taught me that teasing someone, like in any sport, produces winners and losers. Maybe my mom thought that teasing me early would give me character, or thicken my skin. I would say it made me shy with people. A former girlfriend, early in our relationship, said she wouldn’t ‘joke with me’ until she knew me better. A pretty accurate comment, I felt at the time, since teasing can bore into your heart if you don’t ‘get the joke’.

Teasing was not promoted as a form of humour when I became a father. My wife and I agreed that making fun of someone would not be something we modelled to our sons. She was a fibre artist and was very practised at teasing out particles from animal fur. For example, raw sheep wool, even after it has been washed, has much debris embedded in the fibre. Deft fingers are required to remove tiny seeds or vegetable filaments. Bits of straw, dung, dead insects and such can be picked from the fleece using a carder. A hand carder has many rows of fine metal spikes. A carding machine looks like an instrument of torture. When the fibre has been processed in this way, you can roll a clean roving that can be spun into yarn.

Christmas is a time of yarns. Sometimes we have to tease apart the truth from the stories before we can spin the best yarns. I guess in this sense finding the truth requires some teasing. Perhaps that’s what we do when we are poking fun; trying to provoke a reaction that will tell us something more about the person who is the butt of our joke.

Life can be messy, especially when we aren’t sure how to separate the drama from the comedy.

Re: Matter

The study of physics tells us that Matter is what makes the universe and all things in it, including us. The atomic particles that were first born of the Big Bang are part of our being.

We are made of matter yet how do we decide what matters to us? That comes from an examination of our values. What we care about and who we care for is fundamental to our existence. I have a need to understand what matters in the present context and then I set about prioritizing things accordingly.

What matters to you is totally up to you. It may relate to what you decide to eat, to wear, to read, to say, to own, to binge watch, or to march for. You can hand over this task to governments, to churches, to teachers or to neighbours but until you make your values matter to you personally you might find your self adrift in uncertainty. Determining what matters is what creates the uniqueness that is you.

My late wife took several courses on Philosophy and each time she came back from a lecture at the university where we met, she swore she was going to live the way she had just been taught. She had seen the light. She was raised in a church going family. Her religious convictions sometimes coincided and sometimes conflicted with her intellectual nature. We had some great discussions. From the content of her classes and these debates we drew closer to a philosophy of life that was consistent with our unity as a couple. We made plans using these discovered values to embark on the adventures of life.

Matter’s opposite is anti-matter. Does that fact suggest that, philosophically, everything matters and nothing matters concurrently? I’ve enjoyed examining the yin/yang nature of life. There are a lot of isms to ponder. Existentialism, we exist but why? Nihilism is too pessimistic for me. I have spent way too much time in my life trying to answer the why questions. I prefer now to seek out the how of living. That puts me leaning more towards a Zen way of thinking, if I am correct in that interpretation. I want to be more presently focussed so that I can understand what matters now.

The song Bohemian Rhapsody by poet Freddy Mercury, has meant different things to me since I first heard it. I often hum the ‘nothing really matters’ part to myself when I have no control over a situation. It helps me to detach from any outcome. Head banging aside, I find peace.

I wish to resist labels for myself and others. If you build your self concept by picking and choosing from the philosophical tree, so be it! That doesn’t make you wishy washy. More likely you will feel well rounded, not boxed in by a particular way. I don’t believe anyone has found THE WAY.

Being devoted to the creation that is you is not selfishness. You are showing respect for what matters.