Re: Service

Service can ‘be’ something and it can relate to ‘doing’ something. As a noun: Before I married my first wife it was de rigueur to register at a china shop so you had fancy plates and a proper tea service. A service starts a tennis rally. As a verb: My dad serviced aircraft while in the armed forces during WWII.

Recently I’ve been exposed to different levels of service from various workers who have been part of a renovation in my home. I was aggravated by a salesperson when purchasing a washer/dryer combo who wanted to push the sale of an extra service contract rather than attend to my need for a quality product. My wife and I chose a contractor for the job carefully. We wanted to forecast a high level of quality service to take away the anxiety that comes from a remodelling job. My opinion of tradespeople has always been high. Plumbing and electrical work takes knowledge, skill and care. Some workers at our reno provided service with a smile yet lacked attention to detail. Others have been so proud of their occupation that their service to their task and to their client has been exceptional.

I take my car in for regular servicing. I used to do oil changes and other upkeep stuff myself, but now I wouldn’t know how to do a good job with a modern vehicle. There is a maintenance schedule to follow and I stick to it in order to validate my warrantee. Before I bought the car I checked out their service department. I chose well. Every time I go in I feel like someone who owns Downton Abbey.

We live in a self-serve era yet we still depend on the service of others. Many service jobs are considered too menial. Some service jobs have been eliminated by computer robotics and others have shifted to higher tech. Where would most offices be these days without their IT department? Rarely do we see ‘full-service’ gas stations. As a kid I remember getting a free balloon every time I went with my dad to his favourite petrol pit stop.

Community service has always been important to me. We often hear the phrase, “I want to give back…” when someone feels grateful. I’m part of that club since I wish to pay it forward by volunteering or serving on committees. Many still have the weekly habit of attending a religious service. I used to spend a lot of time helping out at my community church. That was a case of serving at a service. I’m proud to say that sometimes others trusted me to such a degree that I conducted the entire service.

Some say that providing service to others is our highest calling. To be a servant need not suggest being below another. Perhaps the act of serving has more to do with taking the focus off ourselves and applying effort towards the greater whole. Even the powerful and mighty can learn this lesson. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVjE99phqYk

Re: Brave

I think our society is overusing the word Brave just the same way we seem to feel compelled to give a standing ovation at every live performance. To call every act of self sacrifice heroic, waters down the understanding of the value of courage. It’s interesting to note that when a so-called hero is interviewed they will deny being brave. They say they acted as if on impulse. They say that anyone would do the same thing given the same set of circumstances. These statements certainly make them humble. But brave? I can’t help but wonder if we call people heroes because it makes US feel better. For example, calling Native North Americans ‘Braves’ can’t possibly absolve us white folks of genocidal behaviour. Can it?

Bravery is often associated with a sudden lack of fear, a compulsion to act without regard to personal safety. I can say I rarely feel fully safe in my life yet I have gone on adventures, weighing the odds. The probability of failure or injury has to be factored in before I will risk what I already have in order to find something I haven’t. In the film Free Solo, Alex Honnold talks about his methodology of meticulous planning and practise. He goes about the task of the climb with such obsessive precision that the outcome becomes more possible even while the risks are clearly tangible.

I was once in a relationship that was failing. I couldn’t muster the courage to say that our being together wasn’t working. I felt so relieved when she said goodbye. That was an act of bravery that set both of us on a course to a better future. I admitted to a friend recently that I ached over the political situation in the USA. The world is looking on at this national level squabble and wondering who will be brave enough to speak against their leader. Living in the ‘land of the free’ doesn’t seem like a great place to be right now. Their national anthem and constitution currently seem at odds with the original intent. If ever there was a time for citizens of America to act as though they were in ‘the home of the brave’ it will be in the next presidential election, 2020.

Hopefully every election, anywhere, is more about service than who is best. Pushing the theme of superlatives rather than making things right for all can’t be sustainable. Most powerful might be okay for superhero movies but not for global harmony. What gives me hope for the future is joining with others in my community to give voice to things that make us better.

I used to belong on the Board of a local arts company who promoted the motto, ‘Be Brave’. It was included in all their handouts. The declaration was for all to practise courage without caring if they were the bravest. This message is an inspiration for actors, supporting workers, volunteers and the audience. It is a call to be intrepid. I’d stand up to clap for that.

Re: Rule

The first time I played Scrabble with my future mother-in-law I told her about our modified house rules. She said, “Hmm, I’ll stick to the original ones.” Changing the rules for playing a game brings me pleasure. I’m not a ‘Rules are Meant to be Broken’ advocate yet I think they are meant to be tested. How else do you know it’s a good rule?

On a visit to the Tate Modern Gallery in London, England I was closely watched by the security team after I had been reminded by an official to not touch a statue. I had ignored the sign; ‘Please do not touch the works of art on display. Even clean hands can damage surfaces.’ I felt compelled by the sensuous curve of the metal and stone fabrication. Shame on me.

Making your own set of rules and keeping them consistently can be a difficult proposition. Self imposed rules are hard to make and hard to keep. We all have some personal rules that we keep sacred; like never lie, never cheat etc. I try to keep the special set of rules which I live by in order to feel I can be trusted by others. It is important for me to be dependable so my opinion can have a high level of credibility. A set of rules can enhance my personal authority. But what is authority anyway?

Cultural rules can change quickly. It didn’t take long for cigarette smoking to turn from ‘anywhere, anytime’ to a strictly regulated behaviour. We still use the expression ‘Rule of Thumb’ when we talk about a baseline for behaviour yet the origin of that phrase came from the thickness of wooden rod a husband could legally use to beat his wife. I remember Sadie Hawkins events when I went to high school; making a ceremony out of women choosing who they might date while restricting the amount of female participation in the game of love. Now we have relevant discussions about consent within a #metoo focus.

In democratic countries we elect our Rulers; those who we allow to have authority over us. Previous generations were instructed to have respect for the Ruling Class. To be loyal to their King and Country. ‘Rule Britannia’, as an example of colonialist fervour, was positive for only a few. ‘Make America Great Again’, as a slogan, can also be an expression of a rule of engagement that creates imbalance in the great wide and diverse world that we currently share. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akbzRuZmqVM .

Often we don’t get a choice in politics. We may choose to believe that we collectively put our leaders on the metaphorical throne but in today’s world it is truer to acknowledge that others behind the scenes really control political outcomes. As a result of this interference with the rules of law, we find ourselves with rulers who may flout what many of us see as important rules of etiquette. Perhaps we collectively need to get better at who we select to be the boss of us.

Re: Style

Like everyone, I have a personal style that is hard to label. I am clean-shaven and my wife generously cuts my curly head of hair when it gets unruly. I have clothes from Mark’s Work Wearhouse in my closet (like blue jeans, some things never go out of style). I don’t wear a watch and I have two special rings on my hands. My lifestyle does not include regular exercise yet I choose to walk when practical. I eat to live and choose quickly heated processed foods when I feed myself. Unlike my father, I doubt anyone would call me stylish although I believe I have a certain captivating charm.

Style is really about how we define ourselves. It may be the most important part of our adolescence. We may not wish to be a fashion trend-setter, or even to be noticed at all but coming of age requires we have a definition, at least one that we can be satisfied with for the moment. I was a loner in high school. Most of the time I wore twill cotton white pants with five copies of the same shirt; a different colour for each day of the week. Oh boy!

I recently enjoyed the Amazon Prime television series called ‘The Collection’. It got me thinking about the reasons people choose to dress the way they do. In post WWII Paris, style was equated with beauty. If you had a stylish designer outfit you got noticed. Sometimes this attention was unwanted or even dangerous. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hsmJ5-LgiZ0

Perhaps we go for a certain style because we just want to belong, not to stand out. My late wife got a chance to have a classic ‘bob’ hairstyle back in the early 1970s by Vidal Sassoon himself. Being a modest person and certainly not flashy in her choices this surprised me at the time. I remember her saying that it was a brief opportunity for her to be part of the ‘In Crowd’.

When I was in my early 30s and still boyish looking I felt the need to grow a beard. I had the impression that a bearded man got more respect.
It didn’t work. It made me wonder if some get a tattoo to change how they are perceived. Do we adorn ourselves for another’s sake or for our own
amusement/security/satisfaction? Once a family member was noticed wearing two unmatched socks. When it was remarked on she said, “That’s my style.” Perhaps her response deflected unwanted attention or perhaps she was happy someone noticed.

That’s the thing about stylistic choices. How we decorate ourselves, what music we listen to, what food we eat is revealing, whether we like it or not. Our personal style gives others clues as to our identity. Unless we try to be anonymous, to fly under the radar or to keep a low profile, we will be noticed. It’s risky broadcasting who we are, but worth it. Be loud, proud and beautiful!
Go full Gangnam style. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMFt1yW7_wA

Re: Excuse

English language words can be hard to teach. Some words may be spelled the same yet have different meanings depending on pronunciation. Take Excuse for example: I may be excused for certain behaviour yet I may decide to make no excuses. In the former there is the Canadian zed sound for the letter s and in the latter Excuse you hear the es sound clearly.

The mental shift that comes about as one hears the word in context can be confusing for an ESL student. I somewhat shamefully admit that the challenges inherent in learning another language frighten me. My other excuse, lame though it may be, is that I am lazy. Language, of course, is more than just vocabulary. Language is a force in communicating culture.

When I was growing up it would be pretty common for someone to say, ‘Excuse my French’. Maybe this xenophobic phrase is still used as someone’s less than polite way of excusing the four letter swear word that had just come out of their mouth. When we endeavour to excuse ourselves it is a way to rationalize our way of thinking and/or to seek forgiveness. There are some among us who would never consider the need to make an excuse, much less an apology. The current President of the United States, Donald Trump, is a daily example of inexcusable behaviour. He once infamously said, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters”. Many would say he is just speaking his mind. But that, in itself, is another excuse.

Dinnertime, when I was a young father, was pretty formal (for the mores of the 1980’s anyway). We observed as much as possible the 50’s Canadian tradition of all gathering around the table for a meal and conversation. Our excuse was that my wife and I wanted to hang on to customs that we thought were important for raising children. As my boys got older I remember giving permission for them to leave the table if they had finished and had an important place to go by saying, “You’re excused.” I wonder if anyone says that anymore. Reading this over makes me sound so nineteenth century!

Canadians are often dubbed as being over-the-top polite. We are branded as always saying such things as ‘excuse me’ in front of almost anything: Is that seat taken? Are you reading that? Would you pass the salt? I was here first! Often we ask, in our embarrassment, to be excused for sneezes, farts or burps. I haven’t met too many Canadians who wish to make excuses for poor behaviour. Generally we try to own up to our mistakes.

“Excuses, Excuses.” Would be an admonishment from one of my teachers for not following through on a project. If I failed to live up to my parents expectations I would be asked, “What’s your excuse?” My childhood explanations would rarely pass muster. In those cases, I was likely excused to go to my room.

Re: Sorry

I don’t say the word Sorry very often. Not because I refuse to own up to my mistakes. It’s just that I seem to have a specific view of what Sorry means.

I’m too formal for my own good sometimes. I have had complaints that I don’t say sorry often enough, or quickly enough. Trouble is I don’t understand the concept of saying the word as a balm, so I bomb. I can come across as being cold as a result of my reluctance to say sorry as a soothing agent.

“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” This is a phrase from the early seventies that is senseless. Likewise at a funeral when I hear someone say, “We are sorry for your loss.” I’m baffled. These people may be showing they care but surely they don’t mean they’re responsible for the death? I picture myself trying to explain this use of the word to an alien being, fresh from some distant planet. They keep nodding their head, not in understanding but in bewilderment. Just like me.

I’m not much good contributing to a woe-is-me sort of conversation. I can’t joke about it or fake feeling sorry either. There are many stand-up comics who riff on the difference between the sexes when it comes to the word Sorry. Men will joke that it’s probably best to wake up and start apologizing to your partner just to cover any contingency. That’s insensitive but I can’t help but laugh. Sometimes I think it might be good advice. Trouble is, I can’t make an apology sound sincere if I don’t feel responsible. In the same way I’ve never been a good liar, my face shows my guilt. Weaselly politicians and ferret-like corporate CEO’s may get away with statements such as, “If we have caused any harm we apologize.” This as a way to suggest that it’s somehow YOUR fault for being aggrieved.

If I say sorry I want to mean it. I remember one time feeling so badly I had screwed up that I actually went on bended knee to plea for forgiveness. I’ve never used flowers or gifts to apologize. I want the words I use to redeem me, since it is likely that words got me into that awful predicament in the first place. I used to discipline my sons by saying that if they really mean the apology they had to make a full sentence. ‘I’m sorry’ never cut it in my house. “Sorry for what?” I would ask. I would suggest a sentence starting with, I’m sorry for…, then maybe adding a question such as “How can I make it better?” They could never cop-out by saying, “I’m sorry IF I hurt you.”

I can be extremely sad that someone is going through some trial. I can sit patiently and listen to the story of anguish. It’s hard to find words that will show compassion. But that doesn’t make me want to apologize. I’m sorry for being such a stickler.

Re: Birthday

Since I don’t like drawing attention to myself, I’m bashful about my birthday. How I feel about my age has nothing to do with the annual day, although I do appreciate the reminder of these milestones of life. The actual day when we are born is so momentous that it does deserve a retelling in whatever context.

Recently I became a grandparent for a third time. This birth had the usual moments of concern, drama and anxiety, all in the context of love. There were hospital worries and some recovery is required. Friends of the parents, two sets of grandparents, co-workers and many acquaintances all were involved in some way as the ripple effect of a new life spread. This little guy had to elbow his way into the world and that may become the favourite anecdote to his life as his future unfolds. Life is about the stories we tell and a birthday is one of the building blocks to our understanding of ourselves.

To me a Birthday after the actual day of birth is really an anniversary. Being an introvert, I prefer to have quiet time to reflect, revisit and categorize my life journey. Sometimes I don’t want to celebrate each of my years on one specific day. I like the silliness portrayed by the Mad Hatter in the Disney animated production of Alice in Wonderland. He’s on to something when he declares that every day NOT a birthday can be called an ’Unbirthday’. I like the notion that each day can be recognized for what it can bring and is just as important as the next in one’s development towards becoming human. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RdsZT7WKjW8

Our traditions of cake, balloons and birthday greetings are sometimes a distraction from the significance of one’s birth. I can’t begin to understand all of the forces at work to bring a human baby into the world. So many things can go wrong and so much can go right. A lot of effort is put in, just to get the newborn to its first official Birthday. Hurray! You are one year old!
People gather to mark that first event in what often strikes me as a comical time, since the one year old person can’t possibly take in what is going on.
But hey! It’s a party!

I travelled to see my newest grandchild and coincidentally spent time with my mother in law who had just turned 90! It was a time spectral visit! One life begun and another nearing its end. A ninety year span covering so many historical events made my mind spin. In many ways my special mother is exhibiting signs of returning to her youthful roots of expression. She insisted on ice cream for her birthday celebration and she shouted,‘Tada!’with arms held aloft, after successfully stepping off the city bus near her apartment after her party.

Time is precious. Our lives are precious. Each day is special; from birth to beyond. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GibiNy4d4gc

Re: Television

I think many people my age can say their childhood was influenced by what they saw and heard on television. For several hours before and after school the characters I watched on that old TV set provided childcare and I did feel nurtured by them all: Captain Kangaroo, Mr. Green Jeans, The Friendly Giant, Romper Room’s Miss Molly, Buffalo Bob. They were as real to me as if they lived down the dirt road I walked to get to school. Combined, they were like a third parent; offering advice, a quiet moment together. They gave me ideas to explore when I was out on my own.

As I got older I would plan my after school time with the scheduling calendar in the mini magazine, TV Guide. The white lettering on a square TV screen of their logo became as familiar to me as the CocaCola brand. I studied the pages each week using a pen to circle my favourite shows. I read insider info about the actors and learned about things like ‘Prime Time’ and ‘Soap Operas’. I remember one September when the networks were announcing their Fall lineup I pounced on that Preview edition, cutting and pasting the show titles onto a Bristol board display for a grade five art assignment. I was just approaching adolescence when NBC announced that they were programming a new space series. I’ll fully admit to the state of my pubescent hormones at that moment by declaring orgasmically that Star Trek was the seminal TV program of my life.

Who would think that a telecommunication device would offer so much enjoyment to the viewer; young and old alike. The four years leading up to my mom’s death in a nursing home included regular doses of programming through the Turner Classic Movie channel. In conversations about the films she viewed, it was clear the plot had become melded with her own life memories. Some at the extended care facility even suggested that TV watching was becoming too intense for my mother and therefore ill advised.

Such comments reminded me of the early days of television when it was forecast that viewing could not take place too close to the set, or too much viewing would dull the mind or distort your perceptions of the real world. Parents often questioned me about the advisability of television quality and quantity for their children during parent/teacher nights. Many were shocked that I allowed my own children to watch The Simpsons. My view has always been less about censorship and more about using whatever is televised as an opportunity for discussion. I would teach my children the difference between watching Television and watching a Program. If I felt suspicious of the content of an episode or series I would ask that I be allowed to join them in the viewing.

It is safe to say that television has contributed to my development just as novels have done to previous generations. The characters and incidents I have witnessed on the smaller screen have made a lasting impression and continue to inform my being.

Re: Woke

Perhaps it’s my need for light at this time of year that makes me feel hyper-vigilant. I joke that I’m afraid of the dark and that has a certain memory of childhood truth to it. I really appreciate the observance by many to string lights around their buildings since it makes it more easily enjoyable for me to get out for a nighttime ramble. In our community we have an annual lighted truck parade that helps to celebrate the light. The swift moving caravan of dozens of vehicles honks its way throughout our streets, piercing the darkness and our eardrums while making crowds of people smile. https://www.ieoa.ca/

The African American word Woke comes to mind and is useful to me as I come to understand our requirement to be alert to life. I feel that being awake to the world around us is a responsibility of citizens. The poet, Ivan Brooks Sr. starts his piece ‘Reasons I Woke Up’: I woke up very happy/This joy isn’t for me alone/But for nearly everybody/Who calls this world home. https://hellopoetry.com/words/woke/

The joy of being Woke is energizing. I love those mornings when I can rise confidently from slumber and just know in my heart that it is going to be a good day. At times like that a song comes easily to my lips, as this one from the film The Sound of Music.

Lit is another word that can be used to express awareness to the joys that life may bring if we are paying attention. I’ve never felt the need to take drugs to get Lit, but I’ve been known to get a buzz from a happy-hour drink or two. When I am Lit I am also Woke to all possibilities. The world is out there for me to explore and I wish to bring it! I suspect that the Three Wise Men of myth and legend woke one morning and got lit by a passionate desire to seek the reason for the star in the West. My favourite carol as a child was We Three Kings. I could picture their quest easily: Three souls, all wise, yet still they searched. They rode with gravitas, perhaps hoping that their gifts would be enough for what they imagined they would behold.

Being Woke or Lit can prove that you are alive. Someone once said: “If Death comes a knocking just hope he finds you living.” We are often in a wakeful, yet numbed state. What a pity, since soon enough our days of consciousness will end. To be alive is to be fully awake, with our light shining brightly, clearing away the darkness. We must be wise to ourselves. We must look for the wisdom, the wakefulness of others who might act as our guides.
We can be turned on, only after we have tuned in.

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.