Thursday, September 7, 2023

Don and Death (YOU are in here)

“If you’re waiting for that famous last moment, before someone dies, to say the things you should be saying all your life, well, you better have great timing,” Morrie Swartz said to Mitch Albom, in  a line from the play, ‘Tuesdays with Morrie.’ It’s phrasing to sink into the soul. We find it so hard to say the things we feel, sometimes. We can sense the threshold of the maudlin, the sentimental, the gushing, and even the thread of interdependency in our words of love and care to someone else. It’s sometimes hard to let go. It’s sometimes hard not to let go. And so, with friends and family and acquaintances, we perpetuate the usual acculturations we’ve been taught. For a lot of us, less is more. For another lot of us, more and more creates a sense of it all meaning less. Words matter. Feelings matter. How best to convey ‘the right thing to say’ at the many moments of life, let alone at someone else’s ‘end’.

Don just died this morning at 8:30. ...Very peaceful and so glad it’s over for all of us. ... our doctor was just here, and all is taken care of,” wrote his wife.

It is so sad a note to receive, and yet so real. Who among us has never received news of death? And who among us has not wished we might have said something to the person we loved, cared for, thought about? For some of us, we’ve had a chance. We were told about the possibility of imminent death. We were given opportunity to write, to visit, to speak. And at other times, with the sad news of someone’s death, we were taken by surprise. We did not know that the person was ill, was in trouble, was in a state of distress so dire that death would overtake them. And we had no chance to tell them how we felt. It would’ve been ‘nice’ to relay our feelings. It would’ve been ‘good’ to let them know about our appreciation, if only....

In the passage of our lives, at any age, there are the boxes we are given to ‘tick’. Have we been kind, considerate, thoughtful, compassionate? Have we been generous, given time, given friendship, given care? Have we shared our thoughts, our feelings, our hearts, our souls? Have we been honest, truthful, careful, and inclusive? Have we allowed them ‘to be’? And then again, is that tick list all about our self, or is it about another? Have they been those things to us? All of those things? And in the end, that ‘end’, which of those things in the tick list might we not apply? Surely the person hearing them might feel guilty for not exhibiting all those elements towards oneself. So too, might we not feel guilty for not demonstrating those same qualities toward them!

“Every day, have a little bird that sits on your shoulder, that asks, is today the day? Am I being the person I want to be?” advised Morrie. Well, in that ‘wanting’ lies much of awareness and insight and action.

My friend, Don, has a long history with me. His boxes are ticked. His life had great import. His love meant a great deal. Our communication, sporadic, intermittent, intense, and meaningful, was imbued with the essence of respect for the other, appreciation for the journey, and care for the other’s interests.

Another longtime friend, at the news of Don’s death, wrote succinctly: “You will miss your friend.”

Such is the truth of living.

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Perfecting Peace


Happiness is so temporary. Dependent on external factors, one feels it in time-bites. We depend on the weather, on our looks, on our hair, on our relationships, on our abodes, on our gardens, on our phone calls, on our... we are happy when things are ‘right.’ Yet the state of ‘being happy’ is easily fragmented. In the long haul of life, we all know just how very many things have made us ‘unhappy’. We are not at peace with ‘this’, or with ‘that’. Indeed, as Yeats puts it, “...peace comes dropping slow.”

‘Peace,’ as a slogan can be a call to action. It can be a phrase intended to calm down the fight between children, between armies, between religions, between couples, between nations. The word can appear trite, temporary, and false. It can lose the essence of its meaning as one unhappily shakes hands, calls a truce, endures the draconian dictates of a family, a cult, a religion, a political system, a world order. One can be hard put to feel peace when one’s fundamentals are threatened, cauterized, curtailed, and jailed. In the long haul we are victims to the times. "Grant me the wisdom to know the difference," is so true.

Perfecting peace comes at the price of letting go. Attaining peace is not so much a sublimation, or a discarding of one’s wants and desires and interests, as it is about developing an appreciation for our circumstances, our things, our relationships, without being attached. ‘Attachment’ breeds dependency, whereas ‘appreciation’ frees one to love.

“I LOVE it!” is a ubiquitous phrase. Blurted at the banquet of things, feelings, sounds, sights, smells, and touch, “I love it,” is married with happiness. Yet one can become, if not ‘out of love’, then ‘used to,’ familiar with, or even ‘bored’ by the very thing that once created that sensation of love-happiness it evoked. We each have had so much in our lives, young or old as we may be. And it is not just Birthdays or Christmases that give us the presents we love. The surprise of a sunset, a harvest moon, a bird on the wire can bring about such feelings too. All these things are, however, impermanent. And so can be our ‘happiness.’ 

Yet ‘love,’ in the long-haul sense of the word, at ‘best’ is entirely a feeling one gives, always, a sense one has, always, a non-attachment to Everything, always. Appreciation is distinct from Attachment. As such, in the integrative, assimilative, absorptive, inclusive, and personal peacefulness of appreciation, as a verb, as a thing one does, it frees one to love deeply, profoundly, and as permanently in awareness of Everything Else, so long as one is ‘working at’ it. After all, one’s acculturation, habituations, lessons of the past, experiences along the way, and even the expectations within the groups one becomes involved with, creates these divisions of attachment between what was, is, and may yet be. To be attached is to depend. To appreciate, is to be free. Indeed, “...peace comes dropping slow.”

But what about the accidents of life? What about the pain and the suffering and the horror and the abuse and the torturous and the vile? What about the unfairness and the betrayal and the unexpected? What of the controls and the dictates and the censures? What of the bullies and the lions and tigers and bears? How do we accept them?

Acceptance comes at the price of compassion. And compassion arises from having ‘been there’, from recognizing in oneself, however minimally, the instincts to hate, hit, hurt, kill, and smash that which opposes our immediate sense of ‘happiness.’ Who among us has never killed an insect? Who among us has never felt anger, disappointment, vengeance, greed, or.... Well, those Seven Sins raise their heads. It is in discourse that we stand chance of nurturing evolution. And while we each ‘grow up,’ there is much of enlightenment to learn in the passage of our own passing through. Indeed, perfecting peace comes slowly. Yet in attaining it, however small the measures, one knows there is always yet more to be had. Such is love. Such is peace. And curiously, so may we include happiness too. “Peace be unto you,” is heartfelt. So too is ‘Rest In Peace’. But it is the now for now where peace is best realized. Now for now.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Devolving Democracies


We are in much fragmentation. Our world churns with ingredients, political, social, religious, and even spiritual. Much differentiation pervades. Much unhappiness persists. And like the old movie, ‘Network’, one may feel the need to thrust one’s head out of the window and shout out something like: “I’m fed up with the system and I won’t take it anymore!”

Democracy as an ideal holds to the simple rubric of majority rule. It works so long as one is comfortably not marginalized. It is an anathema to the spirit if one is outcast, vilified, traduced, or culminated. We wish to keep things simple. Let live and let live. Be who you are. Just don’t expect me to be the same as you. Be vegetarian. Be against blood transfusion. Be against (Covid) vaccinations. Be a Baptist or a Catholic or a Jew. Just don’t over-mandate me ‘to be’ too.

Majority rule can create a disabling sense of one’s worth. We don’t want ‘them’ over-taking us. We don’t wish for our current status quo to be threatened. And so, as a majority of blue smarties, say, we grow uncomfortable with more and more purple smarties entering our domain. They clothe themselves differently. They make for a distaste in our life. They break our codes of conduct. They clack together in a language we don’t understand. And now, as their numbers grow, we find ourselves too soon under threat of being overwhelmed by their voting powers, and we don’t like it!

Mandates have that effect on us. We lose our vote. Mandates demand. We lose our freedom. Yet safely enough, should the majority vote that everyone must wear a seat-belt, we can choose never to drive or be a passenger in a vehicle again. We can choose. We can stay home. We can walk. We can talk. We can write freely. … Or can we?

Democracy has it that we give in to the group’s wishes, or one may choose not to participate. Draconian measures have it that one must comply; or suffer direct censure. Our bank balances can be frozen. Our freedom of movement can be rigidly curtailed. Our social participation can be severely restricted. Our religious assembly can be cauterized. Our individualism becomes eradicated, and a social credit system can be imposed. As a person of the state one is subject to personal checks and balances. Yes, even the purchase of too much broccoli may also be affected.

In the ‘free world’ we did not think it would come to this. We did not expect to have our livelihoods threatened by the gods of health and pharmaceutical industries and complicit governments and puppet leaders of essentially non-scientific narratives. Like science itself, we expected instead to have our lives evolving on established truths, yet perpetually fluid to new information, new verifications, new admissions of the need to alter course. Such is the stream of life. Such is going with the flow. One has choices! But what if it is too late?

What is done cannot necessarily be undone. We can return most purchases we make for a full refund. We can unsubscribe. We can walk out of the urgent care clinic if the wait is too long for us, and we grow too impatient. We nowadays can even choose the right to die. But once having had the polio vaccine we cannot take it out of us; nor so for measles, the shingles, the smallpox, or the malaria vaccine. In the bloodstream, they do their thing. Still, we are mostly comfortable, if not even grateful, for their validation in us. They’re tested. We can feel secure.

Not so for Covid. There is far too much controversy surrounding ‘The Jab’. There are far too many news reports, articles, web sites, interviews, gainsayers, and medical experts warning one not to admit the vaccine into one’s bloodstream. As well, much research revealing the pro-phy-lac-tic in-efficacy of the vaccine hardly gives one a realistic boost of confidence. And so, it comes down to ‘The Mandate’. As proven, letting off steam by our shouting out of the window does not do much for all of us, effectively. Choice is a precious commodity. One cannot un-ring a bell. Yet in the bonny province of B.C., with Bill 36, the mandate remains clear: Get jabbed, or else! (Now then, heard of British Columbia's Bill 36? One loses all confidentiality with any Health Care Worker, at the Government's demand, or that Health Care worker loses their license, or worse*.)

*Bill 36 BC is a new law that replaces the Health Professions Act and changes how health professions are regulated12. It gives the Health Minister the authority to appoint College Boards, to mandate vaccines for health practitioners, and to punish them for challenging government policies345. Some critics say it violates the independence and rights of self-governing professions and the public interest345. It was approved by the legislature on November 24, 2022 and received Royal Assent the same day12. It will come into force by a Cabinet order2.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Ergo Ego


“Come to the edge of your limitation,” she urged, “and then leap; you shall feel free.”


“But I am afraid,” he responded.


“Ego,” she said. “Get past your fear.”


“But I am uncertain,” he reasoned.


“Ego,” she said. “Get past insecurity.”


“But I am not strong enough, healthy enough, settled, enlightened enough,” he averred.


“Ego,” she repeated. “These things will always be with you, but they contain you in your smallness of self-centredness; they capture you in your sense of imperfection; they garb you in clothes of vanity, however subliminal, as your ego demands that you be aware of your physical limitations, yes, but does not free your mind and spirit to be bigger than the moment.”


“Bigger than the moment?”


“Yes. Small ego is irritable, insecure, vain, anxious, uncertain, belligerent, obstinate, and whatever else does not allow for being ‘larger than the moment.’ Large ego is inclusive, absorptive, assimilative, understanding, compassionate, and holistic. Why fragment yourself in bits of enlightenment when you can come to the edge of your limitations, and in allowing for a paradigm shift, let go? Then shall you be at peace.”


“Be at peace? Sounds like R.I.P. (ha!) I’d rather be alive.”


“Yes. Yet peace while alive is about complete acceptance of the circumstances. Like the age old prayer: grant me strength to change the things I can, courage to let live the things I cannot, and the wisdom to know the difference.”


“That’s not how it goes.”


“Yes. But the sense of it is the thing offered here. So accept that much. Needing perfection is for material things, like building bridges and designing cars and making aeroplanes fly. Accepting imperfection is for spiritual things, like faith, and hope, and insight, and enlightenment, and wisdom too. One makes paradigm shifts incrementally, independent necessarily of one’s age. And the grade levels of one’s insight are not a lockstep, like being in regular school. In our lives one may be in grade three in mathematics, but at university level in reading. Accepting that much differentiation for each of us, and most especially of the self, is the primary root of compassion. And compassion, like enlightenment, is not a product, but an ongoing journey. So… come to the edge of your limitations, one by one, and let them go.”


“Hmm. Tomorrow.”


Tomorrow and tomorrow creeps on this petty pace, from day to day.”


“That’s from Macbeth.”


“Indeed. The operative word here is ‘petty’. A myriad of petty things inveigles the perceived needs of our egos. We are so very concerned about how we are perceived by others, even if we are in strange crowds. But to let go of all that and to be concerned for, interested in, and loving of others truly begins with loving the self sufficiently enough to let go of one’s limitations. So then, be larger than the moment. Go to the edge. And grow beyond.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Toy Trains And Tiny Troubles


Grandfather’s hands were scarred with age. As he placed the gift of my new toy trainset on the tracks I noticed them, as if for the first time. The backs of his hands were criss-crossed with enlarged blue veins, like railway tracks on the map of Rhodesia. The veins ran up the insides of his bare arms, and disappeared into his shirt sleeves. Somewhere in there, in his chest, in his heart, lay the origins of him, a son of Africa as he too was. But now his voice rumbled.

“See. It takes patience, care, and precision, old son. You’ll get it right. Just align the wheels very gently with the tracks as you put the engine and carriages down. And notice that their couplers will connect on the rails if you nudge the pieces together. If they do not, it’s because a wheel is not properly on the rails.”

At least, in what was my five-year-old memory, that’s what Grandfather said. Then too, perhaps my observation of his physique, at the time, was not so acute. Thing is, one makes up stories as one goes along the train tracks of life, and alights at stations, and visits here and there, and feels the years go by as perseverate as is the click-clack-clack sound of time, sliding away from oneself, connected by month after month in the journey of one’s life.

Sixty-five years later, I still have that trainset. And even now, as my own hands and forearms bear the veins of a journey across the continents, the essence of Grandfather’s lessons remain. One need be cautious, caring, considerate, thoughtful, aware, and precise if one is to have a trainset working properly. As a metaphor for life, the slightest disconnect makes for a train-wreck, over and over. The tracks need to be stable. The carriages, like the chapters in a book, need to be coupled. The wheels, like sentences, need to align with each other so as to carry the entire conveyance forward, and around and around. And therein the metaphor breaks down. One can get bored with around and around. Maintenance of the parts, of the essence of the thing, of one’s life, in fact, is utterly necessary to keep it going, yes, but around and around? Where be the progress, the excitement, the new vistas in that?

Yes, one adds to the set of one’s life. We acquire new carriages, different engines, add adjoining rails, and replace the accoutrements of scenes around the circumstances of our lives. And the journey swells. It goes round and round. But essentially, it is flat, horizontal, and even predictable. Until there is a crash.

We speak of the stations in our lives, the tracks we’ve taken, the engine that drives us, the carriages of convenience, and the strangers we meet and befriend along the way. We speak of connections. We speak of timetables and tunnels and watersheds and bridges and being transported. And through it all, around and around we go; humanity, that is. Despite aeroplanes, and even rocket ships, we seldom consciously aspire toward higher degrees of enlightenment. As a people, our veneer of civilization is a thin covering over the savagery of our malcontents. As soon as something goes wrong, we are stopped up by the train wreck of our disappointment, anger, frustration, angst, and disfavour. What now?

“It takes patience, care, and precision, old son. You’ll get it right,” is not so much about the mechanics of living as it is about the essence of perception. To accept, to yield, to include, incorporate, assimilate, and integrate becomes a pathway of itself. And unlike the tiny troubles of the disconnects in the railways, (those that stop up the entire progress of one’s trainset, one’s mindset, one’s evolution,) we can o’erleap the gaps that would halt our progress, whether by accident or design, by getting to the heart of the matter; one has the gift of grace within oneself. And gratitude for everything, even the smallest of lessons, is yet one more way to be at peace with it all.

Such was the smile in my grandfather’s eyes. So it would be, were he to see my trainset, still going.


Monday, December 5, 2022

Sowing Seeds


“Incredible! You’ll take the lot?” (It became difficult to conceal my excitement.)

“Yes, everything,” he affirmed. “Since I’m an art collector, and a dealer, I see them all as a great investment. Certainly, (as I’ve been overhearing,) the majority of them are unlike anything one sees locally, and even in Europe these would fetch much attention. Renaissance glazing is almost a lost art. And almost everyone I’ve watched in this exhibition space over the last two days has been mesmerized by the imagery.”

“I wondered why you kept returning,” I beamed. “And here you are again, just as I’d hoped, just before closing time. Just as I’d envisioned, taking everything. Thanks!”

It’d taken me by surprise, having my works in this exhibition. The invitation sprang into action the afternoon before the local Art Walk began. The owner of the empty building, knowing my friend, invited me to use the space. So, Rory arrived, and our two cars were loaded with eighteen of my paintings, as well as hanging tools, an easel, my business cards, and my two novels for display beneath the related painting, (on the cover, of ‘Admission’.) Then too, the gallery owners set up a blurb about me on their website, and the instant exhibition was born. The intensity of it all was deeply absorbing. Over the two days some sixty people popped in. Some stayed longer than others. Several asked questions. And my stories about the paintings got repeated. Each time, like a dramatic performance, I did my best to sustain the import. But not one, no one, made me an offer on any of my works. (Except my dream buyer: “Even if art is disadvantaged by being a luxury item. Then too, many 'have no space on their walls'. Then too, people will often have to pay as much as three times the value of art, ‘just’ to have it framed.”)

Our lives are art works. We sculpt them. We adorn them. We frame the particularities of our own stories into meaningful chunks, and we display them in our language, our habits, our preferences, and our vocations. Some of us are very conscientious about the details. Some of us are highly abstract. Others are a mixture of the surreal, the ontological, and the existential. In our simplicity we naturally go for that which is most comfortable. And hanging there, in the wall spaces of our interiors, the innate art works of our past can be passed by with hardly a glance, (as we often do with the paintings and artifacts presented in our real houses.) We take displays for granted. Imagery is everywhere. Studying it takes effort. It takes an intensity of focus. And since the meaning of imagery is not easily articulated, it is indeed subject to interpretation.

We are right to be subjective. That which appeals to me is for me; you have your own viewpoint. Our preference for agreement is innate too. (“I like this one, don’t you?”) But to own something? Most of us are constrained by our budgets. As such, we are often out there, without a specific list of needs, and something attracts us. It can be the thing we had no idea we wanted at all.

So too for the adventures in our lives. We do not necessarily go searching; they happen to us. From our own reference, we are more comfortable with those who can relate. We nod in affirmation at those also eschewing predestination. We agree with those disagreeing with clear cutting. We beam in recognition of anguish-experienced enlightenment. We chuckle at the symbolic yoking of disparate entities, depicting collaboration. We marvel at history’s lessons, not being learned. “No, life is not cricket!” One is drawn in by the peace within ‘Mornings Missed’.

At least, that last phrase was the exact title of one of my paintings. And the descriptions of life embedded in the preceding paragraph do apply to each of my works. Yet of what matter? They do not adorn other people’s walls. In fact, there was no such benefactor, as depicted herein, at all. No. Nothing sold. Yet one puts one’s intensity of purpose into one’s daily life, and advertises with one’s card, and who knows where such honourably intended seeds may grow? ("Here, do take my card.")

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Lancaster Lessons (second half)


We are about to leave the Mosquito when the young man pauses. He turns toward the other side of my display table. He points at the music-speaker to the right, and leans forward to inspect another model plane atop it, displayed seemingly to float on the air. “And this one is an Avro Lancaster, yes?”

 “Yes. Even more significant to me. Had a model of one as a boy. Played thoughtlessly with it.”

 “Hm. Boys play. But now, like that Mosquito there, you knew someone else who’d flown one?”

 “No. But M’Lady Nancy Sinclair’s twin brother, Denys Street, flew one. His plane was also shot, and he also had parachuted out, but he too was captured and sent to Stalagluft Three, just like his counterpart, the Mosquito pilot, Denys Sinclair.”

 “Counterpart? They both were called Denys?”

 “Yes. And more than that. They met on the prisoner train when on their way to Stalagluft Three, became firm friends, and were in the same bunkhouse for the next four years in prison. Not only that, but Denys Street, Nancy’s twin brother, told his pal, Denys Sinclair, all about his beloved blue-eyed and beautifully intelligent sister, Nancy; so much so that after the war, when Denys Sinclair was finely free, he searched Nancy out, and the rest, as you’ve learned, is history.”

 “Well, not quite. What happened to Nancy’s brother, Denys Street?”

 “He was one of the fifty caught, and then shot, in the so-called Great Escape.”

 “Really? Wow. There was a movie about that. Right? With Paul Newman?”

 “That motorbike-maniac story was entirely fabricated for the sake of the movie. But Nancy’s pain at the untimely loss of her brother, that way, endures to this day. They were born in 1922, see, and that means he too would’ve been100 this year, had he lived. But neither the mighty-might of the British air force, back then, nor the luck of drawing the right straw was with Denys. And the tragic story of those fifty brave souls who tried to escape has resonated through time. Denys Sinclair did not draw a short straw. Denys Street did. And what followed is a very sad story.”

“All sad? But what about the Sinclair story? After the war, when Denys Sinclair got free, what happened to them? He, and your M’Lady? You said they moved to Australia?”

“I did? Oh? Good listening skills. Yup. They first had their five children. They tried to make a go of a vegetable farm in southern England, a place near Godalming, but the economic after-effect of the war was too strenuous on them, so they emigrated to Oz. Ended up near Perth. Denys taught flying lessons, and M’Lady Nancy taught French lessons. She also did pottery, paintings, furniture upholstering, pot-pourri flower arranging, and recorded-readings for the blind, among other things. She is a most gifted person. But eventually Denys died too. She’s lost a lot.” 

“And she’s still there, near Perth?”

Yup. But she’s here too,” and with that I reach up and touch my heart. “Always.”

 “A bit like these boy-toy planes of yours,” the young fellow smiles at me, “constantly alive with very real and quite profoundly significant memories. Always.”