Thursday, November 15, 2012

Is Wisdom Wasted on the Old?

     There is a saying about how grey hairs are somehow related to the wisdom of a person.  As a teenager I certainly thought this was pure fantasy as I seemed to be surrounded by lots of foolish older people.  As an adult I can appreciate the context of the saying: when this saying was created if you made it past your 50th birthday it meant that you were doing something that God really liked, or maybe He simply really liked you, given that ancient societies were prone to various cultural and medical maladies most of which clean water, antibiotics and a few good peace treaties could have easily solved.

     Today I turn 44, not quite a new age category for running races and it's not a milestone like a 30, 40 or beyond.  But every day that I am here is still a victory.   Every day is a blessing.  And it's all temporary.  One day none of us will be here.  Life is like a play (not chocolates Forrest Gump!)  we're all a bit player in the grand scheme of things and one day the show will be over!  I learned the harsh facts of the fragility of human life and temporality of my existence in a near-drowning in a conservation area lake when I was a child.   Occasionally I still have flashbacks in which I vividly remember contemplating my own death at twelve.

     When I was younger there were only a few adults in my life who I felt may have known a couple of things.  Truthfully, I thought most of them, especially those in authority positions such as teachers, ministers and doctors and one parent were total nattering fools!  The adults in my life whom I respected and loved the most didn't pretend to know everything.  I regarded them as specialists in their own lives.  

     My neighbour Erma, for instance, had been a high school English and History teacher who connected so well to her students that they would still send her Christmas cards twenty years after their last class with her. From her I learned the value of thinking, dreaming, pondering and the difference that one person can make in another's life.  From my grandparents Young I learned the silent power of faith, perseverance and unconditional love.  From my grandmother Diebold I learned how to survive rejection, your circumstances and how to rise above it all.  From my dad I learned the value of a good day's work, how to innovate and make things work for you.  He also taught me the boundless love of a parent and the value of accepting your child no matter how crazy she is!  From the God who reached out to a lonely child living in difficult circumstances I much.  Where would I start?

     Now I am on the other end of things.  What do I leave behind, what mark do I leave in this world?  As I have no progeny to deposit 44 years of wisdom mostly gained from mistakes and observations what do I do?  Once, I had three little eager brains, two cats and a husky  who were wonderful 'people'  but clearly not interested in any of my ponderings or  breakthroughs.   

    I have embraced change as a matter of principle, an essential tool in the journey.  After all an 'unexamined life isn't worth living', right?  I'm grateful for what I have become and the person I am still evolving to be.  I have always known that I am in good hands! 

    You have to make peace with yourself.  You accept your circumstances and what you have been given to work with.  If you want to try to create peace in the world then you need to make peace with yourself first.  There are things I've decided not to fight and things I have learned to simply work with.  I have befriended my ADD and made it work for me.  I acknowledge and work with my anxiety issues and do not let these things defeat me.  I work with my so-called limitations and have grown to accept them.  Oddly enough, if one thing is poor, it tends to be compensated my something else!

This month I am doing a job I love: NANOWRIMO.  (National Novel Writing Month).  The goal is to write 50,000 words in one month and the novel is called 'The Grace Tree' and the idea was conceived by a 22-year-old version of the person sitting at this laptop.  The journey continues!

In Mount Hope Cemetary Kitchener.  God bless communists!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Act of Remembrance

          Douglas was a man who irritated me and whom I admired in equal parts.  His 'know it all' attitude was the equivalent of fingernails on chalkboard and it chafed my youthful idealism which was powered by a political awakening at high school courtesy of our weekly Macleans news magazine subscription and Mr. Conroy's history and politics classes.  He was certain that America and her free-wheeling capitalism would save us from the great Soviet red threat across the North Pole.  I was fresh-versed in American history and believed that Washington was the one who would press the red button and annihilate us all in mega tonne mushroom cloud blast. 
                This was our main point of friction and not the only one.  Douglas was my aunt Betty's brother and a friend of our family.  He was also a veteran of the Second World War, originally from Grand Bend Ontario who went to fight Hitler as a young man in Italy. 
                Douglas also gave me my most important education as a teenager. 
One afternoon when I was 15 he pulled out his maps, medals and told me what he did, the friends he lost, his experience in a field hospital and his view of God (he didn't believe God existed as he watched his friend get his head blown off only feet away from him).  He answered any question.   Ever since Douglas' death I have made it imperative to attend cenotaph services. 
                War was a huge part of my adolescence.  While other teenage girls were reading romances I read I am Maria a fictionalized account of a teen's time in a concentration camp.  I devoured World War 2 and Holocaust histories.  (This lead my dad to snap at me one day as he glanced at my casual reading material 'can't you read anything happy?')  My teenage years in the 80's were shaped in the dying flames of the Cold War and we were taught  that nuclear war was a near certainty: this message was enforced every Remembrance Day and our curriculum was full tales of nuclear doomsday and its aftermath. 
                But I became engrossed by the starkness of it all: you could even say that my theology was partly formed by war.  World Wars I and II were easy to figure out: good versus bad, good prevails but at a horrible cost.  It's the classic conflict of any story in any culture in the world.   It was the ordinary people in extraordinary situations that would continue to grip me.  I wondered if my generation would rise to the challenge that Douglas' did when confronted with the threat of Nazi Germany.  I collect stories of these people as they are slowly leaving us.  I keep newspaper clippings of interviews, obituaries and archive internet stories for my own perusal.  There is one common thread that arises in all these stories: from the soldiers who left the family farm as fresh-faced young men, to our ladies in auxiliary units, those who harboured Jews, assisted in the resistance, etc.               My former neighbour and childhood mentor Erma Keane of St. Pauls Ontario was a code breaker as a young woman (This is my best guess as she never gave me the straight story!  And her details went to the grave much to my personal loss.)  There are thousands, maybe millions of these people who rose to the challenge of their circumstances.   
            With one voice through the pages of history this is what they tell us: 'we did what we had to do'. 
                The more I study the history of this period over my life the more I am in awe of these people.  This is the power of the ordinary person, seemingly faceless but given the unimaginable power to change the world.
                It is the generals who plot war, the idealists and revolutionaries who dream of a better world and see war as an unfortunate but necessary means to a justified end.  But it is the blood of young and old, men and women, soldiers and civilians whose lives become the currency, the stock and trade of battlefield conflicts. 
                And I am a hopeful idealist, a revolutionary who dreams of a better world.  I am also a pacifist given my vocation and training.  I am a historian.  And I will always be grateful.

   '...To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.'
from In Flanders Fields  Lt Col John McRae 1915 of Guelph, Ontario


Store front of Budds 165 King Street, Kitchener

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Of Tolerance and Faith

My employer lowered his eyes as he looked at the paperwork he brought upstairs for me.  "We had two complaints from customers in the last few days about your cross.  You'll have to take it down."  I (used to) have a small white plastic cross on the bulletin board behind my main work area.  I found it on the floor of my department three years ago and just stuck it into the bulletin board along with the assorted miscellany of product info, phone numbers, customer special orders and company policy.  I saw it every work day but, as it was very much part of the landscape, sometimes didn't notice it.  When I explained the circumstances to my employer he was greatly relieved "You mean you found it?"  Yes.  
Throughout the remainder of the day as my employer flies (I do mean 'fly'!) through my department we had an interesting discussion on tolerance.  My employer's family-run business has a been a fixture of the downtown for 86 years.  This means he has a lot of stories that he's willing to share.  My employer believes that society is becoming more tolerant of differing beliefs.  I'm not so sure sometimes.  I told my employer that at 43 I feel like I've seen so much that very few things surprise me anymore.  The reaction to the cross on my bulletin board struck me a couple of very different ways.   I don't feel angry but irritated  and I also grieve the loss of an opportunity.  
I wear a cross or saint's medal to work everyday, have the words dei gratia (latin for 'by the grace of God') inked prominently on my lower right forearm and wear Jesus charms on my work watches.  In my work environment, when you look at me you are looking at religious symbolism somewhere.   I don't shout my heart's beliefs or preach them: I breathe them.  My customers complaint represents a lost opportunity to simply chat.   
When I had my dei gratia tattoo done three years ago the studio walls of the tattoo artist were decorated with anti-religious cartoons and a mask of a demon.  My tattoo artist was a wonderful man who loved his father, had an interesting journey in careers and had some very legitimate issues with mainstream Christianity.  He did most of the talking.  I listened.  I agreed with most of his points as his views paralleled some of my own experiences and observations.  We chatted.  Mutual respect.  (and he did a great job on my tattoo!)  This is the kind of interaction I would have liked to have with the customer who complained about the cross.

Societal progress to me means there is room for everyone of every imaginable opinion and belief system.  This is the beauty of multiculturalism (besides the great restaurants!): there is room for everyone.  Yes, you don't have to agree with everything someone is saying but a society that welcomes all works best with mutual respect.  Tolerance is not about 'yeah I put up with you...' in a begrudging manner with a nasty undertone.  And maybe tolerance is not even the best word for this!  Maybe I am simply talking about human respect.
In my 43 years I have seen the very best and the very worst in humanity.  But I carry great hope for us. I believe that we are all 'big enough' in mind, heart and spirit to interact and engage with each other and to reach beyond ourselves to the person next to us wherever we are: at work, school, in the shops, buses, streets, coffee shops, our online communities, our neighbourhoods, our walking trails, our facebook/twitter/linkedin contacts, our community involvements, etc wherever we may find ourselves.  My reading of Christian scriptures and my faith walk tells and challenges me to accept every human being as a special creature loved by God.  And I see every creature, great and small, who crosses my path as a gift and blessing.
Reaching across our own boundaries can only create healthier communities and break down the walls that divide too many of us.

A very happy All Saints Day to all of you saints reading this!  

Sunday, October 21, 2012

See you November 1!

Thank you for dropping by!  I will start posting regularly November 1 (All Saints) day and new content will be added every Thursday.  At this time I am working on content material: this involves mostly organizing the craziness of thoughts in my head and working a cohesive semblance and semi-logical order to it.  This blog will not simply be about me spouting my thougths, observations and philosophies at you.  It will also be a chance to engage with your response to the material here.  Or if you simply want to argue: I love a good debate.  Or heartily agree with me.  (my ego likes this) Or you can add your own observations.  Regardless I look forward to our chats.  This blog represents a new chapter of my life and I'm heartily looking forward to it!  New beginnings at (almost) 44: who would have thought!  :)

the madscribbler
domine vobiscum