Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Em's and En's

“Em? That’s not a word!” At eight years old, I felt cheated, incensed. My uncle often tried to beat me at scrabble. “It is a word,” he remonstrated. “Look in the dictionary.” And indeed, upon flipping through many familiar pages, I realized I was mistaken.

In the relatively short dash between then and now, so very much has transpired. That singular line between dates, like 448-338 b.c.; 356-326 b.c; 110-44 b.c.; 33-61 a.d.; 539-612; 1122-1204; 1343-1400; 1412-1431; 1564-1616; 1756-1791; 1809-1865; 1819-1901; 1879-1955; 1892-1951; and 1918-2013 certainly represents a chronological series. Yet these dates are specifically significant, indeed, and perhaps even recognizable; but it is that all too brief em dash betwixt the dates that really signifies. Therein lies the life. Therein lies the influence of a given person on others, from birth to death. And suspended as that short-stroke em-dash is between the book-ends of any given dates, it is there that the very chapters of all history get written.

Social distancing is creating a stressful acclimatization to a new world order. Indeed, we adjust to being alone, and we preoccupy ourselves with the house-chores of isolation and free time. Indeed, we phone and email and Skype and Facebook, etc., but the physical reality of hugs and handshakes are very much a current aversion. We are to stand six feet apart, if we do not want to be buried six feet under. And evidently, too many lives have been foreshortened by a bug, a disease, a contagion, that horridly knows no international boundaries. Our globe is under attack, or at least, we human beings are the ones being attacked at this dastardly time on our world.

“A debacle! It is my favourite word of the month,” writes 97-year-old M’Lady Nancy Sinclair. In her long lifetime she’s seen the world wars, and plenty more. She’s endured and persevered within the storms of inordinate odds. At now, just about to turn 98 on April 01, she is supposed to allow no one into her cottage on The Swan, near Perth, in Australia. Her adult daughters, her friends, her neighbours, how will they be able to celebrate M’Lady’s birthday? That em dash of her life is indeed experiencing an awful shrinkage in the debacle of this 2020 year. To be so very alone is difficult for anyone, let alone those who care to be generous with their love toward and care for others. It is in direct contact with others that most of us share our very vitality.

A debacle is defined as ‘a sudden and ignominious failure’. Therein lies the rub. Are we, by staying chiefly in a virtual reality for the next long while, able to control the contagion, to contain it, and even, like polio, or the bubonic plague, or malaria, or aids, to stem the spread and so to keep things in check that we no longer need to be so fearful of each other? Certainly, all personnel involved in essential services, from our health, food, and maintenance workers, deserve a hero’s accolades. Their bravery to keep us all as cared for as possible is deeply profound.

And as for that all too brief em dash in the lives of those who once lived, and all those not as yet book-ended by a final date, we can but love day to day, appreciating all that is good and beautiful and marvelous and wonderful within our lives. The em dash of Plato, and Alexander, and even Caesar, and Queen Boudecia, and Bertha of Kent, and Chaucer, and Shakespeare, and Joan of Arc, and President Lincoln, and Einstein, and Sir Arthur Street, and Mandela too, contains their experience of love and appreciation of life. Then too, they also indeed needed to overcome the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. So too, one fears, for each and all of us.

And as for the present debacle, darn it, we need, indeed, keep apart, and keep clean. Let us not play scrabble with the rules. After all, life for any of us can be too short. And lest we do not take precaution, unlike the inevitable and unavoidable reality of our own personal em dash; for some of us, we fear, it might become the even shorter ‘en’ dash. (Yes, the same, but shorter still.) We need think of our own impact on others. So stay safe. Be well. Move about with care. Please.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Baubles and Bangles and Balls

“I’ll lasso the moon for you,” young George tells Mary, in Thornton Wilder’s 1910 ‘Our Town.’

And as the 'Ball of Gold' poem by Stephen Crane (1871-1900) goes:

A man saw a ball of gold in the sky;
He climbed for it,
And eventually he achieved it --
It was clay.
Now this is the strange part:
When the man went to the earth
And looked again,
Lo, there was the ball of gold. 

Now this is the strange part:
It was a ball of gold.
Aye, by the heavens, it was a ball of gold.

Yes. “Be careful what you want, for you’ll get it,” goes the saying. Yet, the thing is, it’s the envisioning, the dreaming, and the actions taken toward our objectives that count, over and over. How else to live life as fully as we can? With goals in mind we move ourselves from stasis. Yes, there is no real perfect paradigm; no one size fits all. Still, by making choices, choice after choice, it is the journey itself that involves us most, very seldom the finality. We move! As Robert Frost (1974-1963) wrote: “I have promises to keep; And miles to go, before I sleep.”

Thing is, are we internally, or externally, motivated? What incites us most to action? And once a thing is obtained, then, what’s next? After all, as Robert Browning (1812-1889) urged: "A man's reach should exceed his grasp -- or what's a heaven for?"  Then too, as Shakespeare’s Juliet exhorts: “Swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon.... [of the 1500’s] but swear by Thyself.”

True, restlessness grips us. We scarcely can stay put. We hardly can wait. We find our bones need shifting. We find our brains need stimulating. We want more, and more, and something else, somewhere else, (and sometimes even someone else.) We seldom can meditate. We seldom can sit still. With no magazine to flip, no phone to check, no music to hear, no new person to enter the room, no drama, no tv, no games, no cookies; how to be self-satisfied? Cigarettes, and coffee, and chatter, and (unchecked) thoughts govern us, mostly. Sometimes our brains simply slip out of gear. Yes, ideas (and ideals) can be ephemeral. Obtaining them is satisfying, yes, but soon enough one needs to be away. Like birds on twigs, or even at last in our nests, we humans are fundamentally itinerant. All that glitters, indeed, is not gold.

“A rolling stone gathers no moss,” goes the dictum. Frequently though, one meets the exception. (Wendy, of the Shady Rest in Qualicum Beach, has worked there for over 30 years. So too has Darci worked for three decades in the same barber shop, in Victoria’s Fort Street. Then, recently, our too-young-looking server at the Maple Bay Pub revealed that she’d worked there for over 22 years.) Everywhere, there are outliers. Indeed, at times when we over-generalize there is often enough evidence to disprove one’s contentions. (Yes, one can become quite astounded at how utterly wrong one can be.) Our gold can become clay. Then again, generally, like “the inconstant moon” itself, we prefer once more to be on the move! Wonderful as anything is; where’s the next pot o’ Gold?

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Sunshine for Sharon

We human beings are fundamentally ontological. Sharon would’ve liked that word. In the meaning making sense of things, Sharon took special delight. But she does not get to read this tribute. When she died around 7:00 p.m., this February 28th, she did not make it into the leap year. The 28th we get to remember, yearly. She left the up and down and round and round carousel of life. She was, at last, free. Yet a surprising day of sunshine, Feb 29th, wedged into the calendar for those on Vancouver Island. The preceding weeks of grey clouds and rain had marred wishes for pleasant weather, and the horrid threat of Sharon’s cancer loomed over all those who loved her. By March 1st, here, so far from Calgary, it again rained and rained. ‘Tears from heaven’, indeed. Our grief is profound. Sharon’s life was too short, at 57. And as for March, we are called upon to march on and on. Sharon would like that image. Yes, we each must eventually also go, but for Sharon, cancer was her last marathon, here on earth.

She’d actually run a marathon in every province of this vast country. That’s ten 26.21875-mile marathons in a lifetime. Most of us have not yet run one. For those of us unfamiliar with this Canada of ours, it makes for an incredible feat of training, preparing, flying or driving to, and then attending the grueling races, stretched out on diverse tracks across a vast country thousands of miles wide. And always, she appeared humble about her achievements. Always, she was interested in and caring of others. Always, she loved her dogs, and loved nature, and loved the people she knew. And always, she was supportive and compassionate and insightful.

Jessie (Sharon’s mother) and Sharon had flown out westward, 2016, just especially to see me perform with a new actor, Perry Burton, who played ‘Mitch’, in ‘Tuesdays with Morrie.’ (Morrie dies, onstage, of ALS.) Nine years before, in 2007, they’d seen Jay Newman’s ‘Mitch’. (That was the same year Jessie's husband, and Sharon's father, Vic Peters, died of the disease.) In 2010, they saw me do it with Donovan Deschner. And next, in 2018, when I was invited to perform ‘Morrie’ in Canmore, with Rob Murray, they drove to see the show yet again. Think of the courage, the bravery, it took them to stare down the face of death, again and again. Yes, ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, has claimed and is claiming many victims, but for Sharon, and her mother, as well as for Sharon’s older brothers, Doug and Russ, their father, Vic Peters, succumbed to ALS, finally, back in 2007. For them all, and for the family and friends who knew and loved Vic, it all was a dreadful time. And now, with Sharon being taken by cancer too, how awful it is that we each must march on, without her. How very sad for her two daughters, Maryanne, and Jessica (with Charles and little baby Leo, who will not get to know his grandmother,) and for Sharon’s dearly beloved husband, Ken.

“My funeral was last week,” beamed Morrie. “All those people saying all those wonderful things about me, and I got to hear every word. I kept thinking; Morrie would’ve liked this! And I did!”

Sharon would beam at the reminder. During the dreadful last months, we all gave her love and care, and our prayers were felt by her, to be sure. And now, as she is off on “that final journey into the great unknown,” as Morrie puts it, she indeed has packed with her our love and concerns and appreciation for all that she gave us, while she was still here, running her marathons in the psyche of our consciousness, sharing her love and good humour and deep interest in our lives. So, it continues. She would want us to share our puns. She would want fun.

On Feb 7th, to my texting her about kismet and the unending love we shall have for her, always, she responded: “I cannot say anything quite so eloquent but say it like this: love, love, love.”

Yet her eloquence lay in the very art of love with which she contributed to life and gave to us all; it was so much greater than mere words. And as for sunshine, she shall always be a ray of love and lightness of being in our memories, for each of us. We now can but stand at the sidelines, cheering her on in the marathon of our minds, sustaining her spirit in our hearts, and carrying her love for us, always.