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: Mean

“Everything happens for a reason” is easy to say, harder to believe. Just what do we mean by that phrase? Perhaps we are merely trying to find meaning in what might have just happened to us. We want to fathom the grand meaning of life, yet we don’t have the context to make a reasonable connection. To paraphrase a classic, “If a butterfly flaps its wings in my son’s backyard, I’ll be inclined to go ten pin bowling.”

Imagine a strange scenario: A baby born in the backcountry. Her parents die and she is raised by wolves. She survives, thrives, grows old and dies never having known another human. Did her life have meaning? Surely life can have no meaning without context or connection. We have meaning only when those we have touched remember us and respond to that memory. I think that is why funerals (or Celebrations of Life) are so important. During an end of life event, we get to pronounce what a person has meant to us. As a collective we confirm that the person did not die in vain; that a legacy remains despite the loss. We, by extension, are made significant for having known another and are encouraged to continue our journey.

Meanwhile, I’ve been meaning to write about the word Mean for a while. Sometimes with a word like this it’s hard to cover all the thoughts that bubble up. I mean it! I could go on a rant about how I wish people weren’t so mean to others. Or I could say how happy I was to discover that the mean price of a house like mine has risen in the last six months. Each time I pick apart a word my intention is to find out how it has affected me.

Perhaps intention is key to meaning. When we say we want a meaningful relationship with someone, we are intending to give as much as we get. Reciprocity can add to our understanding of life. It starts by ‘walking a mile’ in someone’s shoes. Yet sometimes after all we do to find commonality and mutuality with another, we must go our separate ways and define a new meaning for our personal path.

Graffiti, like other art forms, is rooted in an exclamation: I exist! All artists use creativity to find meaning. Regardless of an artist’s depth of training or natural skill, their work shows us what they have discovered so far. One of the first ubiquitous bathroom stall etchings was a drawing of a head with a large nose peeking over a horizontal line with the caption, ‘Kilroy was here’. A one-liner, a bumpersticker or a meme all do the same thing: They attempt to crystallize our thoughts on the meaning of life.

Sometimes I have felt that life has no meaning for me. On those occasions I’ve been grateful for the loving souls who have given me counsel to let some time pass. The urgent question, “Why am I here?”, is often solved by waiting patiently for meaning to present itself.

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: Infinity

One of my favourite concepts is infinity. I used to tease my students with the notion that if we had a chance to travel in a straight line in space, we would never stop and we would never encounter a wall. In relation to time, infinity means forever. In regard to space, infinity is limitless. Scientists have tried to calculate the beginning of time and space. Referring to this moment as the Big Bang, they have concluded that the Universe (as close a synonym for infinity as I can imagine) was created almost 14 billion years ago. Every year, during this lesson, one of my students would tease me back by asking; “What came before the Universe?”

Because infinity is so incomprehensible we prefer to think in a finite way. Sorting things into boxes brings us a sense of order. Scheduling things on a calendar or in a day-timer app on our cell phones gives us a feeling that when we start something it will have a predictable finish. Thinking in a finite way reduces randomness and gives us the illusion of control. How else are we to comprehend the vastness of time and space if we don’t create within it, a structure?

In relationships we may romanticize the idea that a special union, like a marriage, can last at least as ‘long as ye both shall live’. ‘Forever and Ever’ is how we may conclude a prayer in the security of believing that some things never end. Organized religion and other power structures have helped us to feel calmer about the shortness of our individual lives in relation to the infinite expanse of time and space. We are encouraged to think that our spirits will live on and our earth will last for future generations. However, we all know that someday our bodies will cease to support and transport our essence. There is no practical way, save for Cryogenics, to extend our body’s natural life span. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Bedford

The Metis flag is an infinity character on a blue background, symbolically suggesting that a people lasts forever. Indigenous people have an oral history that indicates reverence for the natural and lasting world. Currently, in Canada and elsewhere, aboriginal tribes have gathered to protest against political structures that don’t recognize the sacredness of Earth. When I was a child summer seemed to last forever. I felt secure that water would always flow clean and the land would always grow stuff. I worry that I, along with my white ancestors, have messed up the planet so badly that my grandchildren will inherit an environmental apocalypse.

We are about to begin a new calendar year. We will talk for a while about new possibilities or a fresh start. We may encourage our young folk to believe that their lives contain infinite opportunities. I’m hoping that I will do more than wishful thinking. I am an idealist at heart. Perhaps I’m hopeful in a similar fashion as a grade two student who once said she liked me, “Infinity plus one.”

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.