Re: Consent

I’ve had close-up visits from my grandchildren recently. Three dimensional interaction is so healthy and healing for all ages, especially after Covid19 quarantines. I loved being climbed upon and snuggled with, as I read stories or played with models of dinosaurs. It’s a treat for a grandparent to see how the next generational family dispenses their rules of engagement. I am always curious. I practise reserving judgement. I know when to keep my thoughts to myself.

Both Family and Societal laws are developed on a consensual basis. Before my first marriage I asked for my father-in-law’s consent to wed his daughter. I once nervously stood before city council to get a building permit. As a group we determine the answers to yes/no questions. It’s the maybes that give us the most trouble. Sometimes the shades of grey can only be worked out in court. Even then the verdict will be definitive and a side will be chosen. With a precedent set, we then try to get on with our lives.

Similarly it is with families; the heart of any society. When I was a child I didn’t have to look hard for direction on how to behave. My parents modelled respectful manners and I generally didn’t need admonishment. My sister was the rebel in the family, so I watched her for clues on what not to do. My father was non committal. I learned to avoid asking for consent because I generally didn’t get it from a mother who would rather be someone else.

I heard my grandson shout, “You made me do it!” He was being truthful. He felt coerced. Sometimes someone can manipulate you to do something. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, our personal autonomy does not remain inviolate. Becoming consenting adults takes a lot of negotiation, within ourselves and with others. Permission, when granted, can also be taken away. Some previously held rules of space and time may need to change as we travel through the gnarliest of intersections. Concessions may be required.

I think of a traffic light. People struggle with complexity. Life can be simpler for people when they know clearly when to stop or go. Societies navigate more easily if a red or green light is showing. But I’ve learned we also need the amber signal of Maybe. In that light, we must be cautious to proceed. Individually, we still seek safety, social acceptance, privacy, personal comfort, etc. That amber beacon slyly suggests we have choice as individuals to negotiate consent. A risk analysis may be required before we can carry on. Still we must pause to consider the pro and con of any situation. Certainly if another is travelling with us then there are matters of mutual consensus to be considered. Others must always be respected.

Teaching moments can present themselves if we are watchful. Observing my grandchildren provides me with a back-to school experience. Their proximity gives me an opportunity to search my life for those memorable intersections. They allow me to amend my map.

Re: Reciprocity

Finding equivalency in a relationship can be frustrating. It’s not like you want metaphorical cash back in your daily exchanges. Yet without a consistent feeling that your love is being reciprocated, I believe it is doomed to fail. We’ve all heard of partnerships where one side feels used or taken advantage of because of their easy going personality. I feel carrying a cross is the quickest way to get crucified.

No one should be a door mat to another. It’s true that getting along with someone requires patience and a mature recognition that no one can be exactly like you. And deeper, longer lasting alliances with someone require a mutual commitment to give and take. I hang a lot of my thoughts regarding my bonds with others on the word Reciprocity; 5 syllables, that’s a mouthful yet there is so much here philosophically to work with when you are figuring out matters of the heart.

Often, the expectation of a ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’ arrangement can be distorted into a tit for tat exchange. Someone might even venture, “What’s in this for me?”. That phrase sounds callous, however, it’s true that at any point in a relationship one of you’ll wonder what you’re personally getting out of the union. When my partner tells me she loves me I sometimes say, “I love you more.” Even while thinking I do, truly, want to love her more. I know I can’t realistically match every one of her overtures of caring, in breadth or depth.

When I can’t be reciprocal it’s usually because I’m not well. That’s when I count on others going beyond their normal quota of caring. I’ll make an effort to show reciprocation when the shoe is on the other foot. It sounds like I’m making my behaviour conditional and I guess I am in an unspoken way. We have to be careful in our expectation of others while at the same time recognizing a one sided arrangement when we see it.

There are stages and occasions in a lifetime where reciprocity will never be realized. In my book of love, a child must never feel that payback is a requirement of their familial arrangement. Likewise when we contribute to someone’s wellness after an accident/illness, we know our effort can never be matched.

Think of a time when you might have said, “The next one’s on me.” You recognize a gift, want to return the favour, perhaps even work out a repayment plan. Many gifts can’t be repaid in kind. Many favours can’t be replicated. I warmed to the notion of ‘paying it forward’ as represented in a film of the same name. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfW0wCV9iFI

Here, the desire for reciprocity is found in spreading the love. Each caring act builds on the one before it. Here we are, trying to give our 100% knowing full well we can’t sustain that level of mutuality. Thus when we can’t, our mates are there to top us up to wholeness.

Re: Intent

Intention is not everything, but it’s a start. It has been said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I don’t believe in an afterlife so I prefer to do what I can while I have breath in me. Heaven can be found by following through. There are shelves filled with self help books that show examples of how we can move from the idea to execution. The best advise I’ve read is pick a method to accomplish your goals then stick with it until you fail. Then try again.

I remember a clever comic strip that showed a boy scout helping an elder across a busy street. When he got her to the other side she said, “Thanks sonny but I didn’t want to cross”. I’ve been that scout, trying to do the right thing but unintentionally screwing up. Having good intent will not mitigate a misguided decision. Sometimes all it takes is asking first, acting next. Resolving to do the right thing by others takes practise. As a parent I bought all of the books by Barbara Coloroso, a well known child behaviour expert. She came to visit our community on a promotional tour for her work, my wife and I sat in the audience taking notes. I am still guided in everyday life by her quote; “Say what you mean, Mean what you say, and Do what you say you will do.”

I can relate to finding the right mood/moment/headspace to start or complete a task. Certain inexplicable things sometimes have to be just right before I can proceed with an intention. It is hard to create a balance between the aphorisms, ‘He who hesitates is lost’ and ‘Look before you leap’. Sometimes I relish a day spent procrastinating. Other days I will rejoice that I have tackled those things that have nagged at me. I often start the day with intention, in the form of a list on paper or in my head. If I don’t always accomplish what I set out to do, I forgive myself.

A child may react to being caught in a misdeed by saying that they didn’t mean it or they didn’t know any harm would come. Parents may allow some wiggle room in the name of learning. However, intention in a courtroom setting must be critically judged. Murders are classified as to the level of intentionality. If the accused is found to have malicious intent then judgement will be harsh.

Jean Talon is a character in early French Canadian history who may hold a key to viewing intent in a positive light. His title was as the first Intendant of New France; a CAO of the colonies. The translation of Intendant to English is Steward. I love the thought that an intention can be something we have a responsibility to see to fruition. If our intent is worthwhile it must not be squandered but put on the first available To Do list. A hopeful idea has little meaning without practical application. We must do what we intend.

Re: Visit

I just had a visit from my son, his wife and our grandchild. With Covid concerns and all that going on it’s been a while since we have seen each other. Their stay reminded me of the twice yearly visits to grand folks that my first wife and I undertook. And it was always an undertaking; packing the right toys, snacks for the trip, clothing for outdoor activities, allowing time to visit the loo. Road trips to family always gave me mixed feelings. Regardless of how much I might have enjoyed the company, expectations always hitched a ride along with the luggage. 

“Come on in, welcome, how long can you stay, what brings you this way, make yourself at home, what can I get you, it’s been too long, how was your trip, remember the time when…” Phrases spill out during the first moments of greeting of the visitor, often in a tumble of words and feelings. The excitement makes me breathless. Perhaps that’s why the first question to a visitor will often be, “Can I get you a drink?”

Next to visits to the zoo my mom’s favourite activity on Sundays was popping by to see friends of the family. As a kid I felt the awkwardness of tagging along as many of these visits were unannounced and without invitation. Much later in her life, I saw my mom squirm when she had to accommodate well meaning drop-in visitations at her nursing home residence. She once shooed out a ‘man of the cloth’ with the shouted words, “What makes you think I need saving?” 

One sided visits can end badly. I have been on the receiving end of a final visit that put an end to our relationship. She just dropped in to say goodbye. The outcome, in hindsight, was appropriate. Yet those visitor’s words still sting. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rETA22Z_a9g

Some visitations, like death-bed rites, are formal. Hospitals recognize the limits of a visit by posting visiting hours. Visitors bring joy and assist in healing yet they can overstay their welcome. The phrase ‘pay someone a visit’ suggests a transaction of sorts. Your mere presence can be a gift and therefore requires a ‘thank you’ at least. Many cultures have an unwritten rule that guests cannot be turned away without offering food, drink or lodging. Countries value dignitaries who come to meet and greet; photo-ops are important to diplomacy. Ask any waiter how thin the line is between hospitality and wanting the table cleared for the next customer. 

Currently I am on an extended visit. I am sharing a palliative care mission with my wife. We have endeavoured to create for each other an environment that provides some comforts of home while recognizing the temporary nature of the stay. My son’s visit did a lot to make a bad situation seem more normal. Another son has planned a weekend with us to bring us some laughter. In the big picture, Life itself can be described as a visit. And we only have one.

Re: Side

An argument I had with someone long ago involved the use of this question, delivered at maximum volume, “Whose side are you on anyway?” It was really a one sided yelling match with someone who felt unsupported. I didn’t know how to answer the question. I still don’t because choosing sides makes me uncomfortable. Waging war is all about picking sides. Wayne Dyer once said, “When you live on a round planet, there’s no choosing sides.”

As a young boy I enjoyed the mythic stories of King Arthur and his Round Table. By definition the table lacked sides; no left, no right, no head, no foot. Political equality in theory and practise. Every knight’s opinion counted and there was no need to forge allegiances. There I go being naive again. Every kid learns early how to choose a member for his/her side or team and often it has less to do with talent and more about hard to define things like loyalty, friendship, or expectations. The business of Sides usually is about favours earned or collected: You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.

And that’s when things can go sideways since one side often perceives that they are not getting an equivalency. Strong emotion then comes into play as the one on the other side feels let down, “I thought you had my back!” There may be good reason for someone to be construed as a turncoat. Sometimes a person’s principles dictate a different path from their usual comrades. Friendships aside, there are times when it’s important to diverge due to conscience.

Imagine being a staunch Trump supporter because you’ve always been a Republican in the United States. Perhaps your view of things from his side is now starting to unravel. Perhaps The Donald is making you question your loyalty to the Party of your ancestors. You may be virtually beside yourself with the dilemma of how to vote this November. Your country’s core values are being questioned at an international level. This particular decision to choose sides is way more crucial than what side of the bed you might prefer.

Heads or tails. The coin is tossed in the air. It has two sides and you are encouraged to choose. Yet often in life things can seem like two sides of the same coin. Environmental concerns and the use of fossil fuels are linked. In Canada we feel that Peace, Order and Good Government are not mutually exclusive.

A celebrity’s fan base can have members that vary from mild appreciation to rabid exclusivity. A Fan is often called on to take sides based on their celebrity’s announcements or positions on things unrelated to their particular talent. A celebrity may ‘go too far’ and alienate previous followers. Taking sides is serious business. Taking sides can sometimes involve an oath, of love or of fealty. Promises made aren’t necessarily kept for all time. Circumstances change, new data disturbs the parameters from which the original decision was made. An awakening!

Siding with truth, is something with which I can find fidelity.

Re: Mate

I told someone the other day that I was a one woman man. They recalled that phrase as the title of a song by country music legend George Jones.

Being a person that has spent time getting to know himself has made all the difference to my selection of a mate. I’m guided by what I see in another and what I see tends to be a reflection of me. By that I mean I am drawn to people who hold similar values, have similar interests, in short, get life in the same way I do. I’m not looking for a clone of me, but there has to be enough similarities so that we can relate, as mates. I have to feel a friendship, a kinship, before I can settle into a long term relationship. I need to recognize this person. From that comes the security of familiarity and then love, a very hard word to define. I’m a birds of a feather kind of guy. I don’t relate to the opposites attract theory. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xweiQukBM_k

In the wild kingdom we often describe an animal mating for purely instinctual, procreational reasons. Some animals are known to mate for life, but it is rare outside the human species. I belong to the tribe that values exclusivity in mating, even while I was dating I could only manage one woman at a time. While my relationships have been one on one, I can admit I might fantasize but, oh my, polyamory?

I saw in my first mate a mutual desire to build a loving family. She caught my attention as a true friend, growing into a confidant, then a loving partner. A strong bond was formed. We had so many mutual ideas about how we saw life unfolding. We planned continually. We eyed the future as a promise. When cancer took her away from me it was hard to recalibrate my thoughts on life, what to do next, or who I might wish to spend time with. The very idea of a life mate had changed in me. Surprisingly I found someone quickly, she appealed because she was more a colleague. We both worked in education, loved reading and were writers in our spare time. It seemed like a match. However, our differences soon overcame our initial connection. Thankfully, she changed her mind and left. However, I was alone again. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D_P-v1BVQn8

Finding myself in the world of digital dating, I considered my options, gingerly. Could a computerized approach to finding a mate bring me the woman I dreamt of? Quickly intimidated by online choice, I decided a party was in order. Lucky me! My fantasy woman magically appeared. She had the image I desired and the substance I admired. She shared my passionate adventuring view of life and was brave enough to take risks with me. We both continue to believe in the importance of the singular moment. Check. Mate. On with life. Together. Eyes forward. Hands clasped. We are mated still. Love is beautiful.

Re: Friend

‘A friend in need is a friend indeed’ is the first proverb that comes to mind when I think of the word Friend. It relates to my belief that friendship is important when a person can’t go it alone because of current circumstances. I admit to being a DIY person in the general sense: I get satisfaction from doing it (life) myself. I also recognize that being an individualist can make me appear unfriendly.

I had a best friend. Through grades 7&8 my mom described us as ‘thick as thieves’. I thought he was going to be my BFF but I moved to another city for high school and saw him rarely. We planned a trip to Europe for our gap year but he pulled out at the last minute. Later I reached out to him to be my best man at my first wedding and he declined. My sons still tease me about my lack of friends with, “Whatever happened to Horst?”.

I appreciate this song by James Taylor because it was on my playlist during my only summer romance. She was a friend from far away that got away, despite my willing her to be nearer. I used to sit in my used VW beetle to read her letters then go home and play my Tapestry album. The poignant lyric, “they’ll take your soul if you let them.” still haunts when I hear it.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xEkIou3WFnM

The best advise I ever got was to be my own best friend. Friendship comes with expectations that others can’t necessarily fill. I can count on myself. I rarely have let myself down. I don’t say that because I feel superior. Friendship requires a lot of trust and effort. Alas, I am wary and lazy. My two beautiful wives have been my bestest of friends. I am an exclusive friend because it brings me security. Seems I haven’t got the energy that some have to spread their love around. I actually admire people who need people or can love the one they’re with. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XeTGln5XGTE

On film it appears as though women set the bar for friendliness. I tend to enjoy conversations with women over men because we are more likely to seek similarities than differences. To me the friendliest and most stimulating conversations are about ideas. The people I would call my friends value the positive in life. I recognized myself in the character Sandra Oh played on Grey’s Anatomy with this scene where she admits she needs someone.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9DN4Dw3tyLY

My niece recently reached out to me. She said someone told her she needed a ‘rock’. I was flattered, humbled and frightened at the same time. Could I fulfill her expectations? The request required the elements I consider part of friendship: empathy, kindness, discretion, availability, resources. You can deliver some of these qualities to an acquaintance, but a friend, a true blue friend, will need them in abundance. That can be exhausting.

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: 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: 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.