Saturday, December 22, 2012

Idle Iterations? (seventh of seven)

Original sin, says Scott Peck, is Laziness. Laziness is 'entropy', he affirms. Big word! 'Sin' by contrast is so small; so endemic to our culture that we bandy it about as a commodity. Goodness knows enough money has been raked in throughout history over fears of sin. And if idle hands are the devil's companions (or some such thing) then might it best not serve to understand precisely what we mean by that little word, sin, particularly when yoked to an expensive word such as ‘entropy’? After all, a 'mental-block' phrase like entropy can be off-putting enough, let alone our therewith contemplating the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics. It takes up our energy! Why not just say that ‘in idleness we head toward stases’? Why then is that a 'sin'?

Dictionary definitions make sin 'a moral offence'. Yet in considering the enculturation of morals in our societies, one's sin is another's delight. But to Peter, Paul and Mary, or to Tom, Dick, and Harry sin basically means doing intentional harm. Even in unintentionally harming oneself we disregard our negative impact. A sin! Yet 'sin' is an easily overused buzzword for a host of apparent acts, a selling point for a plethora of odd commercial products, and a readily deployed oxymoron to boot. It all can be sinfully delightful. And no, I do not speak of perfume, neither just of chocolate.

The Seven Sins are Deceit, Anger, Pride, Envy, Gluttony, Lust, and Sloth. No special order. Which of these cardinal terms entirely escapes any of us? The degree to which one is involved in habituation determines our predominance. We may indeed be practicing all seven, but the unchecked proclivity for a given predominance establishes one of them as a sin of such proportions that it becomes observable, if not by the self, then by others. And the sin lies in that the habit adversely affects others. And Laziness, or Sloth, is the sin of not applying oneself to fulfill one's potential. What potential? The drive to be 'more better.' That ‘more’, essentially, is about Integration. Sloth is the sin of not caring. Sloth is the sin of being selfish. Sloth is stasis.

Perhaps deep in our programming are the seeds of evolution. We feel a need to learn, to apply learning, as Robert Browning would have "our reach exceed our grasp, or what's a Heaven for?" We are geared for growth. And those who do not contribute, participate, let alone accelerate the process that may stir at our own souls are deemed to be indolent, lazy, slothful. "What a waste," we may affirm. We may use deception to get such an one off the couch, anger to control such a one, shame to provoke his pride, show things to get him envious, even lust to get him stirred, for of all the sins it is laziness that most brings down the status quo, that devolves the human condition toward (wait for it...) entropy! At least, that’s what Dr. Scott Peck seems to say (worth a look?) He asserts that every moment that the mind or instincts lets go of the need to pursue a thought, the impulse to aspire toward something greater, we are being lazy. Idle. A sloth!

Laziness manifests itself in our avoiding conflict (unless we adroitly are managing another’s provocations). Laziness creeps upon us when we cannot be bothered, do not choose to understand, do not care to take the time, will not spend the effort, let others do the thinking, do not do the decision making, will not take on responsibility, and allow circumstances to direct our course. Laziness lets us not feel guilty, not care about another, and not think about our adverse impact on others. And as such, laziness, if Scott Peck is right, is the spirit seeking not to evolve, but just to be left alone to satisfy its own ends. If one's contribution to the health of the whole be a reason one is born, then laziness is the biggest sin. But that's a big ‘if’! Even that energetic writer, Ayn Rand, would have it that the sole purpose of the individual is to make the very best of himself, in spite of others! Tally ho! And no, it’s not just “off to work I go”. Ha!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Lust For Life (part six of seven)

Objectification is at the heart of Lust. That, and enculturation. What one tribe or people or continent finds appealing can be off-putting to another. We are taught to see beauty, to want certain things above others, and to feel unsatisfied until the object of our desire is attained, particularly in the grip of lust, of our sexual desire. Lust does not truly love, does not carefully consider the person behind the looks, does not take into account the feelings beyond the flesh; lust gets focused much on gratifying the self. Love goes awry.

Perhaps more of a male problem than a female, at least as far as popular culture will have it, lust as a symptom arises in failed relationships, broken marriages, heartbroken teenagers, and unwarranted bravado. Lust excuses abuse. Males do much with lust. Females too, but males are more aggressive, more open about it. And advertising caters very much to lust; most images are of sexually desirable females, rather than males, especially if the advert can promote the item along with scantily clad 'beauties'. Females have suffered greatly under the guise of appealing to men. Chinese women with their feet bound. African women with their necks elongated. American women with their chests enhanced. Men with uncertain egos ready to buy a female's attentions. Lust is very evidently a trade, an industry, a commodity, a plaything. It is cheap and expensive at the same time. And it is so endemic to our culture that our movie posters glare with it. Children are raised with the precepts of becoming desirable according to the constructs of coquetry, of looks, of fashion, of attitude and behaviour. What once made a man or women a wastrel may now make him or her 'really cool'. And attracting lust, an art form of itself, becomes an industry perpetuated by those who would take advantage of our wants, desires, wallets, and instincts. 'Sexy' is our ubiquitous barter.

Instinctual lust is likely atavistic, as ancient as our origins in order to perpetuate the species. Birds and bees do it. Animals preen and puff with attractors. But man is now sophisticated, and if sophistication be thought of as the ability to conceive of what the consequences to another might be, then essential curtailment of instinctual selfishness might more readily come to mind than enacting or even pursuing the thoughts that would demean, objectify, and render another little more than self-gratifying. At root of man's inability to control his mind, his desires, his instincts, is selfishness. Sophistication would have it that we consider the other. And the difference between having sex and making love is vast indeed. Love is a spiritual affirmation of emotion; sex is temporal.

Celibacy is easiest sustained by one who has 'been there, done that' and is imbued with such love that in the beloved's absence there is intention not to betray the monogamy, however long. Virgin priests practice celibacy, honouring The Ideal Love (and would that such souls be ancient enough for such abstention easily to be undertaken offhandedly). Self-sacrifice is best practiced with peace and contentment. The man who flagellates himself, who hurts himself in agonies in order one day to get into heaven? He best be a willing participant, a conscious chooser, or what's a heaven for? To deny sex is not to deny love. Lust in our virginal teens is not the same as lust when we are experienced adults. And when we are yet more caring, yet more aware of the impact of our very thoughts and instincts upon another, so do we realize that lust, as a thing of what was once essentially selfish, is but a thing now to be invested in no more. One evolves, gradually. After all, in the lust for life, love, an unconditional ingredient, takes finding.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gobbledygook? (part five of seven)

Can't stop! Taste is possibly the most frequent temptation. Gluttony has it that we do not stop to discipline ourselves, that we over-frequent the smorgasbord, that we overfill the plate, and that we hardly ever are abstemious. We each have a personal nemesis. And yes, over Christmas most of us are prepared to let go of ourselves, and just enjoy the nosh. But that occasional over-eating, over-indulging, over-fixating is but a part of our lives; it is in having a persistent problem that gluttony becomes a predominant 'sin'. 

Physiologically we each are wired and programmed and conditioned and genetically coded and habituated by culture and society and psychological predispositions and even our own wills too. Somatotypes! One look at another and we may judge. In many societies to not be beautifully Rubenesque is to be Twiggy-ish, and anorexia, indeed, is a deadly disease. Ectomorphs and Mesomorphs have it relatively easy, a genetic predisposition is endemic to their existence; tall and skinny, or muscle-bound and stocky. It is the rotund Endomorph who suffers in our society. Were a plump girl a Zulu bride she would be hailed as rich and bountiful, as would he as the bridegroom be, for to be thin is to be a bad hunter, a person of poor means. But gluttony as a cardinal revelation is neither predicated on a natural physical disposition nor the accidental concomitance of life, it is about the inability to deny self gratification through food.

Closest to that inability to self-deny is Avarice and Lust, we surmise, but Gluttony has its own special allotment in the canon of sins, as do they. Why is it that we struggle so with these seven? Much in religion and philosophy has bent around the concepts. Much in mankind has been cruel and non-compassionate and arrogantly judgemental in the face of witnessing another in the grip of the deadly sins, or worse sometimes, in the face of the self. We can be our own worst enemy, entirely dissatisfied with who we naturally are. And we give ourselves excuses, until there indeed be no more cookies in the jar.

The presumption that laziness (physical or mental) attends those afflicted by gluttony, personified as the evidently overweight, is readily evinced. Persons of great weight may appear to move slowly. Sloth is thereby associated. Yet there are far too many examples of persons of corporeal physical stature (to be euphemistic) who are very much involved and energetic and participating. It is a physiological constitution that also plays its part. Perhaps it is the person who has 'no excuses' that we most condemn; perhaps subconsciously, atavistic beings that we are, we fear that such an one abrogates the communal food supplies unto themselves, cheating us of our apportionment of the available store. Ancient reactions! We condemn at our own peril.

Deep in the psyche is the reason we each do what we do, are what we are, or we would do other, yet more, ‘good’ or ‘bad’. We operate from reasons, unique to each, common to all. Conscious or subconscious. It is in having compassion for whoever and whatever we are that we find care and love for ourselves, never mind another. As the saying goes, beware what you do not like in another, it is in you. Arrogance toward and judgement of another, or anger about and hate of ourselves is debilitating, counterproductive. It is with loving concern and the nurturing of our spirits so that we may be at peace with ourselves, and with others, in whatever shape our bodies take, that we may be most healthy. Gluttony, of itself, is not always evinced by one of large proportions; it is manifest in moments we do not desist. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Invidious Intentions (part four of seven)

Envy is perhaps the most evil of the seven deadly sins. Invasive, it can also become invidious. It robs us of The Self and places our happiness on something else, someone else. Dependency on that thing, person, place, event, experience or 'other than oneself’ becomes so bound up in our intentions that we lose ourselves, let loose our purses, forego our common sense. So for the shooter at Sandyhook Elementary; so for the perpetrator of hate crimes; so for the stealer of another's property; so for the one who wants more and more, beyond a sense of sufficiency. It steals up on us in bits and bytes, and it can overwhelm us with a sense of our own inadequacy, impoverishment, inability, or the unfairness of life by comparison to others. We envy that which we do not have.

Degrees of avarice are endemic to just about all of us. How many more books does a person want? How many more CD's? Jewelry? Ties? Cars? How many more pieces of clothing? Differentiated from Gluttony, Envy is about wanting some ‘thing’, some experience, some part of life that one does not yet have. And so we go after it. Collectors (particularly one such as me) are envious of someone else's find of that rare book or record album; we might pay an inordinate amount to procure it. We may dream on owning, holding, or having it eventually. Yes! But kill for it?

What then of that awful degree of envy that intentionally takes another's life? Our own needs are the greater? Of the seven endemic sins, Pride, Sloth, Gluttony, Anger, Lust, or Deceit, it appears that Envy, Avarice or Jealousy (synonyms all) is the sin that spurs one toward such an utter expression of selfishness. The Black Friday shopping sprees will show as much. And the awful event of killing 20 children and 7 staff at a Connecticut school, this December of 2012, reveals how far someone will go to get what he wants. What does such a person want? It might be revenge. It might be to express hate. It might be to attain notorious fame. But in each instance it is to get something he does not already have. Anger may drive the impetus, Pride may be wounded sufficient to force the issue, Deceit may be deployed until the moment actions are revealed, but it would appear that Envy is the reason one is so motivated to get what one does not have; the need to attain more. Retribution, redress, the need to satisfy the hole in oneself that wants yet more, these are the degrees by which we find ourselves 'victim' to envy. The insidious feeling wells up and drives us to expend our energies in the direction of wanting, needing to have, and feeling jealous of those who appear luckier than ourselves. And in the getting of what we want the aftermath to others can be unspeakable. 

At issue is self-reliance. When is enough enough? How much does one really need? How to see, to enjoy, to appreciate, to care for without feeling the need to own, to have, to keep? Avarice and envy would have us collect, own, guard, defend, and even kill to get if necessary; history certainly proves as much. Yet lest I be mistaken, it is of course entirely natural to own, to have, to want, to need; it is at 'what cost to another' that is at issue. But must the exercise of getting what we want be cloaked in the guise of Big Company buy outs of small dealers, of our robbing the health of our environment in pursuit of fulfilling our 'needs', or of going on a killing spree to avenge some sense of our own inadequacy? How to curtail the greed, the need, the want, the ‘must have’?

Degrees of the seven cardinal sins attend almost everything we each naturally do and think and want. Envy is the debilitating feeling that unless one gets more than one has, than one ‘is’, particularly as compared to another, then one is not sufficiently complete. The real problem is that even in getting what one wants, there is always more to be had. More and more and more.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Presumptive Pride (part three of seven)

"Pride goes before a fall" is oft repeated. For several days now I've been practicing a mantra: Now I am typing an A, now a comma, now I am thinking of the word 'mistake'. And so on. Now I put back the toothpaste cap. That awareness creates a focus on the most immediate: Now I breathe in; don't forget to let it out, ha! And then, just last night, I dropped a cup. Smash! In the moment of it hitting the floor, scattering to shards, I was incredulous. I'd been quite proud of my new-found awareness. Ha! So much for pride.

Yet pride in how one drives, or sews a hem, or bakes a cake, or cleans up the broken shards, or tends to children, or serves the public is clearly healthy. It sustains the good and the best in us; it invigorates our practice. Healthy pride has its place. It ensures we appreciate our talents, promotes in us a sense of care with details, with organization, with contribution toward our community. Healthy pride allows us to be secure with our professions, with our relationships, with ourselves. Taking pride in cleaning the car, keeping up with the chores, doing one's homework, maintaining parents' trust, and being honourable has its place. Healthy pride creates a sense of energy being made vigorous. As Mandela famously quoted, "You do nothing by hiding your light."

It is arrogant pride that is the problem. Slogans that say we kick butt; games we play that have our children pridefully marginalizing each other; competitions that engender jealousy, spite, vengeance, and even dislike; these are the things that make the world ill at ease. Perfectionism at the cost of people, performances at the cost of participants, pride at the cost of another; it would seem obvious that we would prefer not to display such pride, but we do. We teach it. We use the terms of war to represent our winning and the trouncing of losing teams over public announcements, school-based intercoms, and our children and their children in turn hear this impetus to be better, more better, and the best, not of themselves, but of others. To put on "the best show ever" comes so easily off the tongue; at what cost to all the effort of all the other shows, ever, that the past should so be relegated to second rate? Arrogant pride wells up easily; our culture is not easily given to naturally doing one's very best and praying for the best opponent possible (indeed, praying for the best for the opponent) that we might learn from each other and in so doing improve our skills, improve ourselves. Pride would have us gloat. Pride would have us brag. Pride would have us be first. Pride would have us hurt when we lose. And we are dismayed, astounded, feel betrayed, feel the godlessness of it when the other is promoted above our own interests, especially if the other is clearly not as good as me! Not as good looking. Not as well dressed. Not as cultured. Not as...?

Healthy pride would have us taking care of each other. I want my ophthalmologist to take pride in her work. I want that the person grinding at the glass in my prescription lenses not just treat the task as just yet another pair of bifocals. Focus on what we do, now for now, and intention thereby to do the best we can, will still have its slip ups. Very evidently! And when the cup falls, and the shards scatter, one may even sense pride in the feeling that in the end, it really doesn't matter. There are other cups to be had, other games to be won, other people to best. So there, take that! I can even afford to smash another! Another thing, that is. I'll get you next time. You were just lucky! Or must pride come before every fall?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Pictures That Provoke

In my ninth year (well, the day of my eighth birthday in fact) a flop-eared old donkey arrived unexpectedly in the back of a pick-up truck. “Remember,” Aunt Kassie warned, “We’ll send her back if you don’t look after her.”
            “Just get on her back, man,” Uncle Sarel called.
            “Not in front of the other animals,” I pleaded. “She’d be embarrassed.”
            “Listen kid,” Kassie scolded, “You’re not getting a pony, and that’s that. And if you don’t want that donkey, we’ll chop her up and feed her to the lion. So you can stop looking through those rosy colored glasses of yours, you hear?”
            “Want her? But I do! I love her. Thank you. Thank you!”
            Sarel laughed, “So? What you gonna call her?”
            “Um? ‘Rosie’. Rosie. I’ll take as good care of her as any old pony. You’ll see.”
          “Rosie?” Kassie frowned. “Oh! Rosy-colored glasses, hay? Ha! You clever little bugger! See?” she muttered aside. “Never needed to worry about spending money on a blerrie pony at all.”
            And when old M`dhalha, our Zulu manservant, first saw the tattered donkey he nodded. “Eyah. Yes. A man comes with nothing, he can own nothing, he can only care, I am thinking, that is all.”
            But then again, many of old M`dhalha’s lessons need to be relived, many times.
            It was on the second day of leading Rosie around that my Aunt, mocking me from her stodgy stance on the porch, yelled across the distance of the lawns, “Still too scared to ride him, seuntjie? Too much of a little boy, hay?”
            I cupped my hand up to my mouth. “Her back may hurt”
            “Ag man, you’re just a sissy!” she jeered, snorted derisively, turned, and went inside.
            Tugging, I headed the reluctant animal over to M`dhalha who was busy with the garden shears, snip-snipping at the low-growing Christ-thorn hedges. And suddenly I was hopping painfully, stifling an ‘Ooh!’ and a ‘Ye-ouch!’ and then another ‘Ooh! Ow!’ as clutches of spiky grey clippings, like giant writhing centipedes seemed of their own to leap up and bite into my feet.
            The donkey plodded among them, then stood absolutely still.
            “Oh no!” I worried. “Whatsamatta? You got prickles in your feet too?”
            Rosie looked away.
          Hurriedly, I plucked the hard-spiked twists off me, and then, with a cautious big toe, prodded the prickly-sharp scatterlings away from her. “There, there,” I soothed. “We’ll soon have you out of here.” And at last I bent to her hoof. “Whatsamatta? Lift. Rosie, lift! I’ll take `em out!” But the more I tried to move her the more I stepped into thorns myself, until I ‘ouch’ and ‘ouw’ and ‘ooh’-ed, as though cruelly yanked by strings, jerking about like a marionette.
            Still, the donkey did not move.
           Unexpectedly, I felt myself hoisted onto Rosie’s back and M`dhalha, his face wrinkled with merriment, hooted, “Ha! I am for thinking we must be letting this donkey’s bony feet be for now taking your bare feet from this place, Inkosana kamiena, Boss-child of mine. I am thinking it knows its feet are made much more better for thorns than us! Hee-haw!”
            ‘Hee-haw!’ Rosie echoed, ‘Hee-haw! Hee-haw!
            Then again, not all of Rosie’s braying was a laugh.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Deception's Dilemma (part two of seven)

Intention is everything. At what level do we do not deceive? Christmas brings on a host of outright lies, especially for children. So too for Easter. And what of the boogie man, superman, or even batman? We obfuscate, purvey our predilection to prevaricate, and fib. We draw the wool over other eyes, speak with forked tongues, and make up things as we go. And yet we feel betrayed, dismayed, and fooled when others have done so unto us too. Yet what are our stories if not a series of snapshots in suspended disbelief?

"That rice-paper we were supposed to walk over, without tearing, was really butcher paper," said the movie star, some forty years later. "We couldn't find rice paper. We wet it, tried sandpaper glued to the bottom of bare feet, tried a twist of the feet in order to tear it, but it would not rip. So we just walked it, then physically tore it, and then panned back to the torn sections." The actor now smoked, ate meat, swore, and disavowed being Buddhist or being affected by his sage role, despite some 62 episodes of portraying this temperate, wise, compassionate, integrative walker in the way of the Tao. He went on to explain his ballet moves, his expertise in the Kung Fu fight scenes, and his direction of the scorpion episode. And my 'hero', with all that, became but a man.

Don't get me wrong. Judgement is not the issue here. Observation is. We have the wisdom of Epictetus at our disposal, Whitman's Leaves of Grass, Corinthians 13, Ruiz's Four Agreements, The Velveteen Rabbit, and Eckhart Tolle's Power Of Now among hundreds of tomes on wisdom and insight and compassion and care. But what of the men behind them? Did they never lie or deceive or falsify or betray? Ethics would have it that we do no harm, and many a heroic thing had been done in the interest of saving the damsel in distress, rescuing the abused child, or containing the looming danger by telling outright lies. Deception has its use, particularly on film.

"To thine own self be true" is worth examining. We so easily can deceive ourselves. We watch the projection (with the same star appearing in the lead as an entirely different person) and we suspend our disbelief and accept the story and have our very beings swept up in the emotions and scenarios and situations that in real life, well, would hardly be credible. Thing is, we 'know' it's only a movie and so we do not feel betrayed. Heck, we pay to be there! But we are deeply offended when the house we buy had undisclosed previous flooding, or the vehicle fresh off the car-lot conks out after a few blocks, or the note that gets passed around in class is an outright lie. Gangs made complicit by oaths, brotherhoods bound in fealty to others (despite our unwilling compliance) create the tension between one's loyalty to a group and the instinct to be ‘to thine own self true’. Heck, participation in things we may not fully believe in is as subtle as saying 'no I don't mind' when the guest asks if you mind if he smokes. The more honoured the guest, the less likely we are to say no; after all, it's just this one time. Deception has degrees, and it clearly is not necessarily evil. To thine own self be true, if ethical and thereby not selfish, is not about the outward manifestation of one's preferential understandings of life, but the inner realization of where one actually is at. We can let go. We flow. We allow for variables, understand the grey.

Ponerology (big word) is about intentional evil. Deception (ugly word) is about intentional misrepresentation. But we commercialize this fact, we celebrate it, we award it, and we perpetuate it. Children learn to make metaphors and parable and analogies. And adults learn to accept the concealed, the unrevealed. Now what would Santa, Jesus, or Superman think of that?

Friday, December 7, 2012

Boiling Blood (part one of seven)


My illustrations and story of Doodley and the Seven Sins infuses this series of seven one-page essays, entitled Pundit's Grammarland,  allotted for children, adults, and all those who like to explore a lot. 


"What boils my blood," my old friend used to begin, "is the..." And invariably some vitriol would follow suit. We easily are angered by others, by things that do not suit ourselves. It is a flare in some, in others a dynamite stick, and in yet others an unquenchable fire. All of us carry it around, like a box of matches. The trick is when and how to use it. It is not necessarily a negative force. It can galvanize the cowardly and bring to a decision the uncertain. It can declare a necessary boundary to a threat, and it can free a person from slavery. Even Jesus used it toward the money-changers. But the prudent person uses it sparingly. Like most times when I am angry, and act out from it, I find it reflecting back on me, on my inadequacy, my foolishness, my ego. It almost invariably is misguided energy; non integrative.

I had a very bad night. Perhaps it was because of the hot water cup I had about an hour before bedtime. Perhaps it was the afternoon glass of tomato juice for a change; very salty! Kept me lightly sleeping; got me up for cold fridge water on two if not three occasions. But no. What really began slowly but surely to get my blood boiling was the inescapable clanking. That intermittent, persistent, unmistakable clanking. Just the night before I’d fixed the ghostly howling and whistling that plagues this apartment whenever the sea breezes reach a certain tempo. Masking-tape down the window seal, well, sealed things shut. Was the clanking now because of the tighter seal? Or was it something on the deck? After a while I learned its precise sound; a soft enough kerplink, then a puk, puck, clang, clank! Just loud enough to be coming from the balcony, or perhaps the neighbor's balcony above ours? In several sojourns off my bed in the dark I checked on the dishwasher, the microwave, the fridge, the laundry dryer, the stove vent. On one occasion I actually went out onto the balcony in the fairly strong wet winds, got splashed from the rain, the soles of my bare feet wet, and rescued our silver-tin candle-lantern, checked the Christmas light wreath and cords, but to no avail. And each time I came back to bed, it would take about 25 minutes before I'd get that invariable kerplink preceding the clang, clank! In fact, so befuddled was I that it took several hours before I discerned that the sound had its own regularity, and that the clang-clank that on some occasions would startle my almost sleeping brain was indeed far too regular to be from the wind. and then... kerplink! Exhausted, I'd haul myself up out of bed yet again and search. But it was not until after the last one, at 4:25 a.m., to be precise, that jolted awake yet again, I slipped out of bed like a ninja (albeit an old and cranky one) and decided to wait in ambush for it! Whatever made the sound, I'd be awake, alert, poised, and ready to fix it for good! So there I was, just waiting at the balcony door, the very beginning of dawn but a smudge on the sea, when I heard that kerplink, and I whirled. The kettle light blinked! It blinked! And then, puk, puck, clang, clank it clinked. I was amazed at how soft the sound actually was. And yes, of course, the vessel was bone dry! I had not switched it off last night. Thank goodness for built in safety switches. Ha! And so, my ineptness finally brought to light, I chuckled into the dark. Switched it off. And went back to bed.

Anger is almost always about our need to overcome. Insult, betrayal, impatience, irritability, ego-threat, and unwarranted noise provoke levels of it, appropriate or not, and we can dish out our anger like a tool of vengeance. The kettle survived. I did not yank out the cord, chuck the entire thing over the balcony. I merely reached forward and flipped its switch. Would that we so easily were able to monitor and to turn on or off the switches in ourselves. After all, having a kettle is most useful. And having anger too, for that matter, has its merits. It is in understanding what the disturbance is in the first place that most assists us to ameliorate our instincts. That, and to listen for that first 'kerplink'!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Captains of Courage (fifth of five)

Courage is proportionate to fear. To fight someone bigger, to jump a larger than usual gap, to trust in the parachute, to take up the dare takes courage. But the most difficult courage, in my experience, happens when alone. Goaded by others we hurtle along the rope-slide over the canyon, jump from the bungee platform, gulp down too much liquor, or swallow the worm; our ego is at stake, others are watching. Yes, it takes courage to overcome fear, insecurity, uncertainty, and unproven ability. But when accountable to others there is a melding of vanity, ego, bravado; a purposeful sense of screwing one's courage to the sticking place. It's when entirely alone that we are most challenged.

Long dark nights in the jungle. Great chasms to be traversed when solo. Interior monologues to be faced with veracity. Dialogues privately to be recalled with impeccable precision of history, feeling, sense, honesty, and one's own culpability. It is the utter integrity with the self that takes most courage. To admit to having slain the dragon when wearing its tooth for an amulet, to bring back the bear carcass, to hoist the enemy's head, to brandish the badges of attainment, to bruit the proof of prowess, to frame the certificate of valour, these are the motivations girding one's loins. But what of being alone, with no one to see you, to know you? What of facing into the temptation, with no one to praise you? What of traversing the divide, with no one to welcome you on the other side? At least, not if you're entirely a believer in the essence of your own heart's point of view. That last-moment bargain with God, in a movie such as The Grey, is so essentially iconic. When at the end of our tether we may well scream out for His aid, and receive no discernible answer. Very many will affirm that in that very moment we are given inner resources through His grace. Deus ex Machina! Others, as in the movie, will realistically rely on the self. But the meaning of courage while being alone (an omniscient God notwithstanding) lies in that we ultimately are propelled by our connection to energy, whether it be that of others, of our ego, of our OverLordships, of our Self, of our codes of conduct and affiliations and ideals and nationalisms, or simply of our own indomitable determination. In the moment of that very real test, we pass or fail the sticking place. We are transformed, or our courage may indeed let us down.

Courage, as the final point of the pentacle of the Knight's Five Virtues, is also the first. It is expected that one be fearless. But fearlessness is a misnomer. We can only exercise courage when afraid, practice patience when impatient, be honest when being tempted, try abstinence in the face of plenty, be selfless through selfishness. The bee in the tent, spiders, mice, the sounds in the night, when alone; these things will give rise to the heart's poundings. More. When ghostly rats scuttle with slithering claws in the slippery slopes of our contentions, and we know that our minds are not made up, our way not clear, our actions uncertain; it is courage and prudence and care and forethought and consideration that must set our course, or courage may be seen as but a protective, instinctual, unconsidered reaction. Many a fool has been so named by a vainglorious moment of courage. To wave the flag and be shot by the enemy is so... sad.

To let go of all the enculturation and prescripts that one has been taught, and to be fully authentic with and in such self as is responsible to and loving of the whole, now that takes courage indeed. We find it so very hard to let go. We are not birds to be turfed from a nest. We are not isolates to be freed into ether. We are beings, bound by fear. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Confounded Courtesy (fourth of five)

"Manners maketh man!" was the inscription within the frame on the wall in the infirmary of Solomon House, at my old boarding school. Yeah, we are not beasts. The sentiment was further expressed by the headmaster, "A gentleman is not defined by what he does in public, so much as what he does and thinks when all by himself." Hoisted by one’s own petard? Who needs be born in the times of the knights? The mid 60’s in Africa were a challenge enough, especially amongst testosterone charged teenagers eager to parry and thrust. The spoils of sporting events were treated with polite accord, lose or win; the cricketer was politely clapped off, successful or not. And young gentlemen were caned for not wearing one's boater, for being late, for smoking or swearing or... Well, the fear of reprisal seemed to lurk around every corner. And so one toed the line, and to the outsider the veneer of politeness and civility was most apparent. Interestingly, 40 years later I had occasion to visit the same old school and witnessed the same old deference, the same respect given to adults, earned or not. Even the uniform had not changed. But the civility, I knew from painful and certain experience, was a veneer. Seen the McDowell movie, 'If'? Most boys, left alone, quickly become as confounded as characters in 'Lord of the Flies'.

Civility at its best is a yoking of Fellowship, Frankness, Compassion, and Courtliness. It is the practice of consideration for others. It has little to do with the affectation of being fashionable, with the in-authenticity of politeness only when we want something, nor with the need to know which knife and fork to use first. Civility, courtesy, is about caring how to make things easier for the other. Putting one's cutlery together on the plate to make it easier for the waiter to collect is courtesy; so is opening a door. And so too is cleaning up after oneself, though nobody may know you were the cleaner, especially in publicly used places. Courtesy is being politely frank about someone's fly being down, about another's nose needing wiping, and about consideration for the other wherever and whenever possible. At its very best the reward is when no else sees it being exercised at all. Penelope once showed me that. When I asked her if I may use the example of her picking up the tossed wrapper in the empty corridor she replied, "Only if not using my real name, please." We do unto others as we would like it to be done for ourselves.

In the longevity of relationships between people we soon begin to take for granted the other's ability to fend for themselves, and we no longer open the door, help them with the chores, bite our tongues from interrupting, take into consideration their point of view, or listen attentively to their chatter. We know them; they know us. Why bother with the manners that we once extended? Families can very quickly devolve from courtesy. Friends do so too. Male or female. And many a young lady now spits and swears quite liberally in public, as do young men, yet it does not necessarily make them physically lascivious, nor whores and wastrels, not anymore. They may claim authenticity as their bible. After all, adults swear, and life all around them gives copious examples of dress, manners, habits, and words by which to express the self, communally. So, what's up?

Courtesy is about being aware that one's cigarette smoke is blowing in another's direction. It is an awareness of the impact of one's own noise. And in the long to-do of one's life, it is about making things easier for another. So too for those knights. Indeed, whether in the thick of battle, or whether negotiating one's place, the inner caution might be, "Let's mind manners, or are we beasts, hm?" (Yes, that infirmary still haunts, ha!)

La Belle Dame Sans Merci
Painting by Sir Frank Dicksee (1853-1928)
[...and won't boarding school boys have fun with that name, ha!)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Complementary Compassion (third of five)

Difficult not to be derivative. Compassion is easily said. Easily given. But for how long? Compassion sees itself realized in fits and starts of intensity, but over the long haul, the day to day, the lived in, lived with, and lasting endurance of the day-to-day-to-day compassion is most difficult to feel wholeheartedly. We generally like to feel that whatever we feel serves ourselves. We feel good having pity, having sympathy, having a round of empathy, being generous, being different from the norm of self interests; but for how long? Compassion fatigue is a clear dilemma for nurses, doctors, psychologists, friends of those with prolonged diseases, friends of those with chronic inescapable pain, donators towards those who have little, contributors towards those whose needs are unfulfillable. Compassion, that feeling of feeling for, feeling with, feeling alongside, feeling akin to, and even feeling at one with is more easily realized from moment to moment. And then let me get on with the rest of my day! Compassion is but a complement.

Natural compassion, according to the Dali Lama, is easiest for those who were nurtured in the first place by loving parents. It is more difficult for those offspring, human or animal, that were uncared for, unloved, unprotected, and not nurtured in childhood. As adults we come across Compassion as a subject for books, for Conventions, for learned dialogues. As a Knight of yore, Compassion was one of the five tenants of the pentacle of Knightly Virtues. And as a human being, as part and parcel of all human beings, as the Dali Lama would have it, we needs focus on the big WE of us all, rather than the small 'we' of our immediate cognizance. We tend most easily to think of the immediate, the group with whom we are associated, the nation to whom we give allegiance, the continent in which we find our place. Our global consciousness, thanks to our modern interlinks, grows rapidly. An advent in Taipei affects us all, let alone the poor Grecian economy. Compassion more easily is experienced for Biafra, for Nepal, for Tibet, but in Times of Yore compassion was very limited to the immediate surrounds, naturally; so one donates the $50 to the food-drive and then gets on with living one's day. How else to survive when there are so very many causes, so many charities, so many in distress?

Compassion, like charity, begins at home. Understanding where another is coming from, not taking things personally, not rising to argue, to be right, to be self-righteous, to be self-centric, to be self assertive despite (nor even to spite) another; that is where compassion finds itself lived in a prolonged sense of whole-heartedness. No? Well, half-heartedness at least, for the endurance with and amongst others who may so drain at one's resources, at one's energies, at one's sympathy, can be enervating indeed. And as we know, enervating is quite the opposite from invigorating. Energy is consumed. So compassion, as a virtue, gets doled out like coins from one's purse, in bits and pieces at a time. Even the mother bird eventually nudges the chicks out of the nest.

Five knightly virtues, Fellowship, Frankness, Courtliness, Courage and Compassion are depicted in the Pentacle on the knight's shield, or emblazoned on his chest. And of the five, compassion as the very air we breathe is the most natural, and yet the most difficult to prolong. We can be friendly, frank, complimentary, and even courageous, but not to feel disdain, contempt, arrogance, judgement, and impatience is a difficult thing indeed. Compassion would have us be loving, accepting, inclusive, and understanding, but for how long? Hm? Now, my good deed done, let me get on with the rest of my day!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Fickle Fellowships (second of five)

Five fundamental values continually challenge. Lady, or Gentleman. Since the age of Arthur's knights the three C's and two F's of the pentagon emblazoned on the knight's chest call the cultured person, the one ‘in the know’ to espouse the virtues of Compassion, Courage, Courtesy, Frankness, and Fellowship. And that last one, Fellowship, seems to me not necessarily about being part of a club, worshiping in a congregation, or being a bonhomme, nor even being a perpetual pal, but being conscious of the essential value of another. Fellowship, in Biblical terms, appears to be about treating thy neighbour as thyself.

Martin Luther King, champion of the civil rights movement, upholder of the grail of equality, racial, relational, male or female, had it that the accord of fellowship be extended beyond all bondage. Fellowship was, is, the essential dignity we allow in another, let alone in ourselves.

The Dali Lama has it that the inequality we experience results chiefly from our own insecurity. We deem others greater than ourselves, or worse, we deem others less than ourselves. Our need to assert our individuality engenders subtle if not overt placement of rank and status, psychically, consciously, subconsciously, and continuously. Fellowship (we almost instinctively gather) is about birds of a feather flocking together.

Diversification is natural to us. Polo clubs and soccer clubs and hockey clubs and football clubs and gladiator combats are varieties of establishing bands of brothers, clutches of sisterhoods. Fellowship is seen to be deserved, or not. Sororities ensure that passage to their fellowship is met only by passing certain standards. So too for virtually any group; the necessity is that one ascribe to the predominant cultural and societal expectations of the group, no matter how gaily clad, boldly bruited, or esoterically evinced. Fellowship is a natural progress of being human; we find our companionship most easily among the like-minded. Even the knights had very many challenges to fulfill before they ceremoniously were granted the status of ‘Sir’, and knave and vassal knew their place. We have not that much changed in the natural order of selection, testing, evaluating, and approving of persons before we call them 'fellow'. After all, in order to be a colleague one needs first to attain the required rank. So too for every peer. Arrogance can so easily be an abrogation of fellowship. True individuality is about, well, exercising one’s individuality.

But why then Fellowship as a Knightly Virtue, or is it a simple 'all for one and one for all' only as long as you are a musketeer? Fellowship on a much larger scale is surely the recognition of the essential interconnection among all of us, organisms on a planet, in what might be viewed as our symbiotic relationship with the universe; an essential inter-dependence. Or are we cancerous cells gobbling up our every resource? Fellowship is surely about extending accord and deference and respect and value to everything and everyone that is encountered, all as a part of oneself and oneself a part within all. Respect Everything and Everybody, the rule of fellowship would read; now which part of 'every' shall be excluded? And of those people and things that are negative, like dragons and warlords and evil witches and warlocks, why, we deal with them too as but part of the whole, yet they deserve our Compassion. Yet another link! But must it really be Fellowship for all?

Three C’s and two F’s, eh? Frankness and Fellowship, Compassion, Courage and Courtesy. All five of them, for all? Given the history of mankind, why does that seem so hard? Oh well, “Tally ho!”

Friday, November 23, 2012

Knightly Frankness (first of five)

"Frankly, my dear!" Ha! Frankness has always been a knightly virtue. And those five virtues that keep on niggling are worth examining. Two F's and three C's. Frankness, Fellowship, Courtesy, Compassion, and Courage. Cannot recall exactly where first I read about them, but I do know I've struggled with the concepts since childhood. Rather like the recent phrases popularized since '97 as The Four Agreements, so very many similar concepts can come trippingly off the tongue, perhaps precisely because we trip up on them! Ha! How do I keep my Words Impeccable; Make No Assumptions; Take Nothing Personally; and always do my Best? Comprehending, even Understanding such phraseology is one thing, but Living it? How to live a balanced life amidst the courtly expectation of three C's and two F's? The median is the modus operandi for me; one is fundamentally average with oneself, no matter how high one tries to set the bar.

"Frankly..., I don't give a...," Rhett Butler began the transition between an old world and a new, and the rest has gone with the wind. Apparently ladies fainted. Movies changed rapidly after that, and swearing became progressively authentic. An intriguing word that, 'authentic'. We seem to think that honouring authenticity gives us licence for all sorts of gratuitous depictions of life as it is, or might indeed be, if we were there as witness. We do not much drive our art nowadays with a view to how life 'should be, could be, might become.’ Yet how many of us would thereby fundamentally be influenced? Was our culture en masse ever really that caring, considerate, compassionate? History reveals how at large we readily want to escape prescriptive overtones. Hence the songs and the movies that elicit our interest in things 'real', graphic. TV shows like Father Knows Best, Lassie, and Leave it to Beaver are bygones of the past. Not all shows. But channel surfing can reveal without warning what used to pass for pornography. And nowadays one witnesses many a youngster not so much as blanch. Nudity, sex, swears, violence; it's par for the course. Not that it's all bad, or that we should conceal what does happen in reality, but in the interest of being frank, forthright, honest, truthful, we can be very revealing. Yet frankness and truth are not swappable sides of most coins.

"You can't handle the truth!" Nicholson spat. What an iconic line. It reverberates beyond the military courtroom. We deal Truth out as a commodity, as if Truth is impeccable. Truth may be desired, yet even in Biblical terms truth is harboured. The lines about 'pearls before swine', from Matthew 7:6, intrigue. There is real value in integrity. Frankly, not everyone deserves the truth; why tell the enemy things that will count against you?

Two recent episodes of the 1950's Rifleman series are fascinating examples of useful fabrications. The negative influence of a non-existent controlling wife, to teach another; and an in-court actually undeveloped photograph as proof of someone's identity have one re-examining 'truth'. In both stories Rifleman fibs in order to secure the safety of another. Utter dishonesty for a greater gain! Ethics has it that the first principle of living be not truth, but 'do least harm'. Honesty is rather different from being frank, which is not necessarily truth. Frankness is defined by Webster as 'open, ingenious, candid'; defined by the Oxford dictionary as 'ingenious' too! And somehow, that word, 'ingenious,' to be frank, has never struck me as 'honest', ha! At issue is how much one cares. And frankly, my dear, we might all care more about what we contrive. Frankly, or 'whatever!'? Ha!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Pelleas and Pellinore

Principle figures in one's life bear the distinction of having been poised on the fulcrum between a past and a present. Some we recall easily. Others had a fleeting influence. Some merely gestured in the right direction after an enquiry, others entirely travelled with you a-ways, became friends, measured days, shared dinners. And then you or they moved on.

Time intervenes after the fact. Ten, twenty, thirty-five years. We become virtual strangers. Yet there is an essence of being that remains recognizable, no matter what new habits the other has acquired. Dress, hair styles, no longer a smoker, no longer a jokester, no longer single, no longer an outdoorsman, now an academic, then a trench digger, these are the things that differentiate our ‘now’ from our ‘then’, yet the essence of the being remains the same.

So too for Pelleas and Pellinore; both Arthurian creations. Faithful Pelleas. Wandering Pellinore.

Pelleas is purported to have lain his sword on the bed of his unfaithful love and her sleeping partner, rather than kill them. He is reputed to have been the most gentle of Arthur's knights, the most faithful. He stayed put in his place, worked for the good of the kingdom, and served his community with those five knightly virtues of courtesy, courage, compassion, fellowship, and frankness. His reputation and his honour remained steadfast. He was a pillar of the community.

Pellinore on the other hand, in his quest for the holy grail, wandered off and braved many a battle, saw several different lands, was embroiled in various adventures, did deeds here and there, and emerged finally out of the woods, creaking and battle worn and pleasantly dazed by the sudden end of it all, to retire in Arthur's court where he had little else to do but gaze out to sea, to spin his yarns, and to await the certain imperfections of his continuing glimpses of enlightenment. The Holy Grail, he finally came to understand, was not so much in what one does, but how one does wherever one is at. Everything matters and Nothing is really important.

Complex? Well, yes, but if it were simple every Knight and M'Lady would simply be invested with truth and honour and beauty and compassion and understanding at birth, as indeed would every serf and vassal and courtier and.... For we needs grow into such light as we find, rather than be burned all at once by too much of it, or indeed by all of it, ever. No wonder, even on one's death bed, there are corners of the mind and realms within the soul yet to be discovered.

So when Pelleas and Pellinore again found each other, after some thirty five years or more, it was faithful Pelleas who had remained in the same territory, who had contributed and made a life of rich dimensions in the same spot as when they both first had met. And wandering Pellinore, rather like emerging from the tangled forest in the musical, Camelot, comes blinking into the new light somewhat pleasantly surprised that he was ever there at all. In their swapped stories lies the interim. Neither is necessarily in contrast to the other, rather in juxtaposition. And for that much, how rich might be their old friendship so revived!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Nakina Revisited (from my novel "a-Kanata!")

NAKINA (1976)

Was maachst du hier?” was female, “Hie du!” young, “Herhaus!” and strangely German. His back was to her, his right hand reflexively slipping inside his shirt and resting on the hilt of his knife as something hard prodded him. But then he came fully awake. It was not yet dawn, but with the whiteness of the still falling snow it was difficult to tell.
            A young woman stood over him in the entrance to the clinic, appearing three times her probable girth for the thick animal-hide parka about her. A brown woolen toque exposed only part of her small pretty face. Her firmness of expression showed a sense of proprietary, a clear indignation that anyone should appropriate her turf. She wore thick fingerless suede mittens, so that her right hand gestures with the ski pole were as stiff as an Eskimo’s. In her left mitt the other pole and two long skinny skis bristled like spears. It was the first time he’d seen such equipment. He smiled up at her.
            Her face and voice softened, “Oh! I’m sorry. I shust thought you were one of those drunken lay-a-bouts from Arrowland, eh?” She leaned the thin wooden skis and poles up inside the porch and used her mitt to scour the globs of snow from their length. At the base of the ski poles miniature Frisbees had scissor cut-outs like spiked toy flying saucers, while the blade-like points beneath them were like little metal scythes. Her small black ski-boots had specially designed toe- Tongues, he noted, with holes that probably inserted into the metal bindings of the skis. “Not that they’re all drunkards,” she hastened to qualify herself, “It’s shust that Mr. Russel wouldn’t allow any of his men, eh, to... well, to sleep out in the open.” Her English speaking voice now had the softest trace of a German accent, but followed the Canadian habit of lilting and making sentences end as though asking a question. Her eyes were hazel and their lashes were still frosted with the cold. She stepped beside him and brushed the snow off herself. “You must be freezing!? Why are you in here? Why aren’t you in the hotel?”
            “Hotel? Didn’t see it.”
            “Shust down the street,” she vaguely waved through the window. “So, let me guess. You arrived on the red-eye express, eh? Are you to be one of the Klimack men, or are you headed out for the Anaconda outfit?”
            “Anaconda Iron and Ore, I think. Keith Russel’s my contact.”
            “Yes. He would be. The whole town is booming with all of this new construct-shun going on. Well, come on inside. Bring your pack. Let’s get you warm.”  She stepped past him and slipped off a mitten by biting the end of it in her teeth. They were small and white and even. Her hand, the short nails unpainted, was thin-wristed but sinewy. Strong. Then she extracted a set of keys from her parka and opened the door.
            The clinic was functional, utilitarian, sparse, and smelled sterile.
            “You can warm up by the register in the waiting room,” she announced before going in, bending to her boots and then taking them off. She handed them to him. “Take your runners off, please. I’ll shust go put the coffee on. And take these to the register too. I like them toasty when I ski back to Cordingly.”
            “Cordingly? Is there a ski hill here?”
            “Ha!” Her laugh was short and sharp, as though he should know better, “Not at all! At least, not a commercial one. But some of the steep hills on cross-country skis are challenging enough, let me tell you. No. I’m at Cordingly Lake. It’s about four miles from here. I have one of the Liman cabins there.”
            “Anne Liman. She’s this great old lady who still goes out in snowshoes on her trap lines. Owns Cordingly. Rents her cabins. Well, you wash up. I’ve got work to do.” She padded out in her thick woolen socks.
            While she busied herself in the other rooms he washed and changed in the ‘gents’ room. And within twenty minutes she was back, carrying a tray with two steaming mugs, a sugar bowl, and a small milk container. She now wore a white nurse’s uniform. It was calf-length and hung loosely about her, as though being a size too large for her wiry frame.
            He took the tray and read her nametag: ‘Nan Laurens. R.N. / B. Sc.’
            “I know B.Sc. is Bachelor of Science, Sister. But R.N.?”
            “Registered Nurse. We don’t call nurses, ‘sister’, here. Shust ‘nurse’. Or, ‘hey you’,” she laughed. “Well now, you can see who I am. You are?”
            “Adam Broadford. Pleased to meet you.”
            She nodded. Her hair was cropped short, page boy style. They sipped their coffee. She looked to be about seventeen or eighteen, her figure slight and her body coltish, but she handled herself with the forthrightness of a mature woman. She wore no makeup that he could discern, and her skin was weather-bronzed. He kept quiet, waiting for her to ask him where he’d come from.
            “Well,” she commenced, and drained her mug, “I have things to do. You may use my phone,” she indicated with a jerk of her head. “It’s six-thirty, but Keith, Mister Russel, will need to come and get you before work starts anyway. Everything comes alive at seven a.m.. So shust go ahead. Use it.”
            And within a few minutes, ‘shust’ as she said it would, the whole town came alive. Adam watched from the clinic’s windows as cars and trucks and pick-ups, their exhausts’ pluming white smoke, slowly slipped and slid along the scoured tire-ruts of the thickly white-caked roads. Various sizes of men, hunched against the cold, came out from the hotel and picked their way through the snow drifts to their snow-piled vehicles. Some bent at the grills and then unplugged long extension-cords that snaked up like thin black mambas from burrowing under the snow; it was as though the electric cars were being charged overnight? Then, once the vehicle was started, they climbed out again, left it running, and with a long-handled brush commenced sweeping the piled up snow off the windshields and the bonnets. Or ‘hoods’, Adam corrected himself. Across from the clinic other vehicles slowly arrived, parked, and the men coming out of them just left the engines running, pluming thickly white from exhaust pipes. Yet more men, their quick breaths like cartoon puffs of wool in front of their mouths, joined those going up the steps and entering the Greasy Spoon. Further along, even the Hudson’s Bay store was apparently open for business. 
            “Nan?” Adam called, putting down the phone. “Thanks! Keith said to get some breakfast and to wait for him across the way.” But there was no response.
            He searched for her, and then from a widow saw her coming across the road from the Hudson’s Bay, a brown paper bag in hand. Running like a white-frocked snow angel, she wore nothing other than her white uniform and a pair of suede mukluks.
            “Hi,” she volunteered as she dashed in and stood over the radiator heater, rubbing her hands, “I shust needed some more coffee and while you were here to hold the fort I shust ran across.”
            “No gloves? No coat?” he marveled. “You’ll freeze to death.”
            “Today?” she shook her head. “This is nothing. It’s snowing. It’s warm. Wait until it’s really cold.” She removed her mukluks. “You will need to buy a coat. Is that thin shacket all you have?”
            “Yes. And this jersey.”
            “Well. The Bay has everything you’ll need. Everything. Now, excuse me, I must work. See you later, maybe.” And she walked away.
             He picked up his pack and headed out into the cold. ‘And if this ‘isn’t’ cold, as she shust tried to tell me,’ he shuddered. ‘Shust what have I let myself in for?’ 
             The heavily clothed men inside the Greasy Spoon had that distinct sense of knowing one another that, as usual, had Adam feeling at once very alien. He stepped inside to an almost instant hush as various heads turned to take him in. In his sports jacket, with his running shoes, no toque, no gloves, and his thin trousers, he felt conspicuous, almost ridiculous. His battered old pannier-pack at his side felt like a foreign thing. He swallowed. The men stared, curious, but not aggressively. There were about eight tables seating four or five men each in an L shaped arrangement around a bar counter behind which a matronly woman now paused to eye him too. She suddenly smiled across at him. “Been expecting you, eh! You must be Adam?”           
            He nodded.
            “Hey there,” she called over to the crowded corner. “Dave! Here’s our new man, Adam. He’s the guy Keith told us about, remember? The one who was a stowaway on the ship, who knocked everyone off the grease pole.”
            “Looks too friggen frozen to harm a flea!” a voice teased, “You sure you got enough backbone in there to fight at all, fella?”
            Adam smiled into the expectant eyes of the crowd, “Hell no,” he tried, “You mean Keith didn’t tell you? Only way I could get across the pole at all was to get everyone to hold onto me and drag me across. Truth!”
            Men instantly creased the corners of their eyes at him. The man called Dave stood up. “Yep. That’s our new man all right. Adam, is it? Come set yourself over here. Say hello to Beth.” She waved. “Say hello to the boys.”
            There was a brief silence, then some of the more outgoing of the men came forward and shook his hand and introduced themselves with names like Tom and Harry and Jim and Eric, who limped in a plaster-casted leg, and Jason and Jacque and Rod and Guy, “pronounced Guh-eee, you hear!” Almost all, except for Eric, were older than himself. Many were bigger, stronger looking men.
            Soon he was seated over at Dave’s corner table. A plate of eggs and toast and bacon and sausages materialized, along with coffee. Despite being a vegetarian he ate gratefully as the others finished their meals. He noticed that he sat upright, formally, with his palms over the handles of his cutlery while the others hunched down, fisted their forks and stabbed down at food. The men also cut up their entire plateful, put down their knives, transferred their forks to their right hand and, mouth now quite close to the plate, commenced a fast-paced and fork-fisted shoveling. Except for a tall, skinny man; he wore an air of dignified elegance.
During the meal Dave introduced the men around the table as Naresh and Li, and Cho, and then, “I’m Jon,” the skinny fellow grinned, his accent most English, “without an ‘h’, if you please”. Next was an Ivan, who most interestingly wore a cowboy hat, of all things, and then came a Ted, and finally, the big old Indian, No-Tongue.
            The privilege of meeting such a diverse bunch did not escape Adam, but he could not bring himself to give voice to it. He was glad of the opportunity to shake their hands, even though he felt awkward at reaching across the table to do so. Never in Africa would men of such different ethnic origins have been allowed to eat together, much less to be introduced on equal terms. Naresh, a handsome man in his thirties of East Indian descent, was the Project Surveyor. Li and Cho, brothers from China, were in their forties. They had come from British Columbia, on the West Coast, because they were ‘powder monkeys’. “Blast Supervisors, like me, once,” Dave informed him, holding up his mangled left hand. The forthright gesture, and the sight of Dave’s stumped hand, with only its scarred thumb and third finger remaining, spoke volumes. Dave was a congenial, big man. “I’m the foreman,” he introduced himself. Jon, the lanky Englishman, was, “Fourteen years here, serving as bush pilot. Although it really should be ‘lake pilot’, shouldn’t it?” he explained dryly.
            “Let me guess,” Adam grinned, “You fly a ‘lake plane’, not a ‘sea plane!’”
            “Touchè.” Jon quickly winked, a sense of camaraderie developing.
            Ivan, strange in his cowboy hat, was a thickset man, of Ukrainian origin, who’d come from Alberta, “beef country, out West”. He was a back-hoe operator. He had steady, appraising but kindly eyes as he paused in his methodical forking. Ted, a solid looking man in his fifties, was a big Dutchman, in charge of Transportation. “Really the ‘Chief Mechanic and Grease Monkey,” he explained with a big grin. He’d been in Canada “Thirty years now.”
            But the one who fascinated Adam the most was the reserved and somewhat aloof looking Indian, No-Tongue. Yet he wore clothes no different from the rest of them. At about fifty, or maybe even sixty, the quiet man gravely nodded and stared Adam down. He’d been in Canada “...for-ev-er,” he answered, using monosyllables.
            Dave, a touch patronizingly, added, “Our friend here, No-Tongue, is our Algonquin hunter and trapper. Aren’t you, my friend?” No-Tongue ignored them. Dave turned to Adam, “He just happened to come back with Jon last night. Need more bullets, No-Tongue?”
            The man gave the slightest of nods.
            Jon asked. “And you, Adam, first time in Canada, we presume?”
            “The neophyte! Measured in hours,” Adam smiled.
            “No!” No-Tongue suddenly shouted. His beaked nose and sharp chin hawked down imperiously as he rose. His talon-like yellow-nailed finger pointed directly at Adam’s chest, “This is a spirit that has been here long, long before.” And then, quiet as a panther, he padded out. For a moment all was silent, and then the gradual clink of finishing breakfast continued.
            “Curiouser and curiouser,” muttered Jon.
            “Ha!” Adam laughed. But the men around him did not.
            “Most I’ve heard No-Tongue say in a long while,” Dave commented, lighting a pipe, then went on, “Well, Keith said for you to wait here for him here, eh? But we gotta go. See you later Adam.” 
            With Dave’s rising men everywhere hastened to gulp down coffee and stood up and wolfed down toast slices and made for the door.
            Within three or four minutes the CafĂ© was cleared.
And then in strode Keith.