Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Voting for Veracity

The golden coin rolled into the vomit. The man in the wheelchair could not reach it. He still drooled from the fresh offal. At his feet the puddle of rancid yellow and brown goo prevented people from standing close. Yet still, his outstretched hand, begging passersby, beckoned. And since there, I stooped, plucked the golden Canadian dollar up from his wretch, and though it dripped from the pinch between my forefinger and thumb, I more carefully dropped it into the filth of his palm. A regular on the street corner, the homeless man could only grunt. He does not speak. He cannot move himself. Inarticulate, uneducated, virtually immobile, and indisposed, this man has been on much the same corners for over six years now. He always recognizes me. He always gives a wave. At times I've gone to get him a coffee. (He once was able barely to get the phrase out). Sometimes he'd get a coin or two. And sometimes I've happened to be close enough to see other homeless people dipping into his silver coffee tin, giving him a pat, and then their ambling on. What he does for his toilet needs one does not want to know. What he thinks, day in and out, there with his head hung low, and there with his rags for clothes and his hair unkempt and his teeth rotten and his eyes glazed and his hardly able to talk is a great pain to see. In fact, for most people as they go on by, he is made invisible. Very few acknowledge his presence. Very few drop coins into his cup. And when he sits there, in suspect puddles beneath his wheelchair, or with evident droppings close to him, he is among the great sad sights in our universe. Late in the day an old woman, achingly disheveled, hauls him away. Yet to take on the full responsibility of attending to him; to see to his longevity; that's something entirely beyond normal expectation. We have institutions for that. We have a social contract. We have government workers and programs. And so we can walk on. After all, the value of picking up a dropped coin in the vomit is dependent entirely on the value of the coin itself. I would not have picked up a dime, nor a quarter, not a nickel, and definitely not a farthing.

Back in my parked car I carefully wipe my fingers with two or more of the antiseptic cloths from the plastic container we keep handy. Passengers in the car, sometimes a dog, children especially, all leave fingerprints and... Well, better to keep things clean. But we cannot wipe away the offal of our societal constructs. We cannot always choose who we see. We cannot make invisible the makings of others. We are best to watch where we walk. And by looking ahead, we can even avoid the unpleasantness of stepping into the turds below. Sometimes hindsight helps too! After all, since history happened, we may as well learn from it. No?

The voting card between my fingers (the same ones I'd dirtied with vomit) I now carried into the booth. Around me were tables of officials, all making checks of identification documents and people's addresses. And when putting down the distinct privilege, for me, of my X, I knew that my choice reflected the freedom to do so. But was my choice the right one? We sift through the crap given to us by the political system. No sooner do I feel strongly approving of one candidate than someone else, some TV advertisement, some newspaper heading or essay or article spews out to confront my surety. Friends and acquaintances do too. No one is pure. No one is entirely right. Or is he, or is she? Hope springs eternal. And in the confusion of obfuscations and improprieties and insecurities, I make my best stab at finding the gold among the dross. Like plucking up the coin; one hopes that one has made the gesture worthwhile.

Our actions build onto our societies, however small. Each little thing has a momentum that, if well-intentioned, one can but hope one is contributing toward the health of the whole. But the degree to which we fool ourselves, too, is measured in the detractions. Yet not to act, to pretend that some bits and parts of life are to be avoided; not to be critically examined, included, assimilated, and integrated; is to miss out on being effectual where one can. The degree of conscious thought we put into things becomes the measure of our progress, our measure of contribution. Or do we simply not vote at all?

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Potential, Privilege, and Peace

Privilege has its disadvantages. Running out of deodorant, oh my! A pesky fly in one’s 2,500 sq ft domain, dang it all! The new brakes slightly squealing on the brand new sports car; better take the SUV. And then, to top it off, there's a leaky shower in the tenant's condo, over 1000 miles away, so one may as well fly there and go oversee the expensive renovation. And what of, back at home, running out of skim milk, and 2% milk for the coffee, and.... Well, ain't I got problems!

Meantime, I gloss over the predicament of the ever ubiquitous refugees. They slide into my consciousness as I lie back on my comfy-couch. My annual donations to World Vision suffices, surely? (How much more do they want?) Yet the images of the fly-besieged children provokes. And then there's The News with its interminable offerings of bad, "bigley-bad" news, ‘breaking news’, and its raw displays of mankind's impoverished condition.

The disparity between what's over there and what is here is very apparent. It is galling. Life is indeed unfair. Particularly to those whose familial and geographic containment is imposed from birth. How does the one fly, of all flies, make its way away from the usual existence that is its lot into the protected space of a plethora of availability? Within the closed up windows and walls of my domain there is food and crumbs and almost invisible treasures for it. For four days it has flitted about, distracting me, the God who lives there, sufficient that, on the fifth day, it got exterminated, killed, done-away-with. (And the Zoroastrian in me, who decided its fate, having done so, did think, 'Would the Master not have set it free?') But to do so would be to allow it to tell all its family (and their families) of the great feast and spoils available if only they would bide their time, await the right moment, and then besiege the briefly opened patio door! They breed!

Did we not do the same to continents? Did Colonialism not invade countries and spaces and overwhelm people and abrogate unto itself rights and expectations? Flags were replaced. Gods were replaced. And now (as one sees the vast amount of foreigners in-cringing on what used to be the familiar,) cultures, rather than being adopted, are being replaced. Gibberish! No wonder there are rising rates of xenophobia, of 'resurfacing' racism, of discord and protest and brutality. Or is it just that we are now nearly eight billion; flies squabbling over earth’s rotting corpse?

Ugly imagery abounds. That's the news. Yet sometimes, when I drive about in 'the wife's' new sports car (or even when in my usual SUV,) it is with a delightful surprise that I see so very many manicured lawns and beautiful gardens and posh mansions and town streets full of shopping people. Amazing that the world still is on its axis, at least, from my point of view. I do not see evidence of the things The News talks about. Well, except that there are indeed a lot more foreigners to observe, in crowded places, indeed. But they are doing the same things we do, talking, checking cell-phones, eating, shopping. And they smile back. And they are, after all, just people, like you and me.

Here in Canada we are privileged. But it comes at a price. It takes the perpetual busyness of maintaining a bank balance, of paying a mortgage, of filling the fridge from the grocery store, of paying for restaurants, and of being extensively taxed on everything. Oh my! And then there is the daily dictum of emails and phone calls and occasional disconnections with wifi to contend with. Oh my! Not to mention that the microwave door that slams needs replacing. Or that the TV console really needs to be specially designed and made to house all our records and DVD's.

We are creatures of the immediate. Each of us. And each moment is all we have. We do not know exactly when the hands of God will clap, summoning us to an unknown. Do we? In the meantime, we wait. We make do. Or do we not? No, peace and privilege are not synonymous.


Tue, 2 May 2017 05:00:00 EDT CBC NEWS