My Blood Flows in Fredericksburg …

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Union soldier


Let us cross over the river,

and rest under the shade of the trees.”

……………………………………………..Last words — Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson


December 12, 1862 — Fredericksburg, Virginia.

The morning air is chill, but not freezing, thank God.

I’m wearing the standard blue woollen Union army uniform, my McClellan cap or kepi sitting low over my brow, a long-barrelled musket held tight in my nervously-sweaty hands. There’s a frighteningly long straight line of my Illinois friends and neighbours on either side of me, with whom I’ve marched through many dark, cold nights.

We are McClelland’s Dragoons, Company A, come from the farms just outside Chicago.

There were times on this march to Fredericksburg when freezing rain made the chill run so deep into my core that I shook and my teeth chattered in my misery. One of my neighbours just sat himself at the side of the road and quietly died. Two others died of typhoid on the march. I have a rotting tooth that is aching, and bleeding blisters on both feet that also have fungus itching between the toes that is driving me crazy.

Growing corn on my father’s farm was hard work, but nothing comes close to this wretchedness.

Back home — it seems like years ago now, but is actually only 7 months — I anxiously joined my friends enlisting for this exciting adventure to quash the rebel uprising, and to put those southerners in their place. They think they can take our jobs by using the free labour of niggers to make their fortunes. We need jobs for our families too.

And now, I have the glory of walking steadily forward into the smoke and cacophonous blasts of rifles fired from behind a stone wall by those damned grey-coated southerners. I have no armour to protect me, just this heavy woollen coat.

IMG_0953 - Version 2

And all I can think about right now is what my wife will do with our young children when it’s my turn to march towards that bloody wall of fire 300 yards away, and I’ve been ripped open by a blast to the chest of heavy 55 mm lead-shot and I lay on this pockmarked field, in a mound of mud and bodies and blood.


September 17, 2013

The Civil War Trail

The red clay in the  soil beneath my feet makes me think deeply of the huge rivers of blood that soaked into the earth here.

The blood of Union soldiers, the blood of Confederate infantrymen, the blood of countless horses, husbands, wives, brothers, women and children. The blood of warriors and innocents who stood in the line of fire of armies dedicated to destruction in the name of a cause they believed in.

Somehow, it doesn’t feel right that here I am, relaxed, with a warm sun stream coming from the left as I absorb the terrifying violence that tore families and loved ones apart.

A historic saga is running in the breeze through the grasses of Fredericksburg.

I can feel it as I stand on a partly-paved, partly-dirt road recessed behind a long fieldstone fence that rises about 4 feet high overlooking this small, peaceful town. The towering pines and maples and oaks have all grown back tall after they too fell in the maelstrom of the battle 150 years ago.

A few thousand Confederate soldiers crouched behind this fence and slaughtered and wounded 12,000 federal soldiers that approached them head on across a wide open landscape. Above the wall on the hill behind, Confederate cannons blew the walking walls of Union soldiers to bloody shreds with their shrapnel. It was a killing field for young men and boys that marched here from the farms and cities of Connecticut and Maryland and Illinois.

Today, Peter, a young park ranger, maybe 30 years old, walks us along the thick stone wall and tells us a wonderful story of a terrible event. He’s animated and interesting, and interested too not just in the battle, but how it affected the soldiers and their families. How the politics were as muddy as the fields the soldiers marched upon.


Over the last 10 days, we’ve visited the Civil War battlefields of Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania in Virginia, Antietam in Maryland, and the granddaddy of them all, Gettysburg, in Pennsylvania.

I’ve stood on the spot in Chancellorsville where General “Stonewall” Jackson was shot in the dark by his own confused soldiers (he died 10 days later from pneumonia). Jackson, like so many Civil War Generals, while a brilliant warrior and strategist, screwed up royally and paid the price with his fatal mistake of reconnoitering at night.

I’ve looked over the rolling hills of Antietam from the vantage point of General Robert E. Lee, searching his mind for a stategy to beat Ulysses S. Grant and Abe Lincoln.

I’ve pondered the senselessness of war from the peaceful, grassy knoll in the cemetery overlooking the graves of thousands of Union soldiers where Lincoln delivered his short, but infamous Gettysburg Address.


From my side, a grey-hair ponytailed fellow approaches with a smile. He begins to talk as if we’ve been friends for years, telling me that he’s a Civil War buff who knows just about everything there is to know about this tumultuous event. I heard him in the museum earlier, collaring others and telling them stories of the battles and strategies used by the generals.

He’s an intriguing guy from nearby Washington, DC. I don’t usually like to be latched onto by strangers, but he seems friendly and harmless, so I let him ramble for a few minutes. We share notes on what we’ve seen as the cool, late afternoon wind buffets and blows our hair a bit.

The sun is just about to set as we shake hands and part ways, cannons silhouetted alongside the paths we take to the vehicle lot and the end of the day.


The monster-sized Civil War museum at Gettysburg contains a stunning cyclorama, something popular with the masses in the 1800’s.

Climbing 2 flights of stairs inside the museum after a movie presentation about the Battle of Gettysburg, we enter into a huge darkened theatre that’s like a planetarium in the round containing a cyclorama, a 360° cylindrical painting.

This version that hangs in Gettysburg, is a recent (2005) restoration of the version created for Boston in 1883. It’s huge,  27 feet (8.2 m) high and 359 feet (109 m) in circumference.

The painting was created by French artist Paul Philppoteaux and depicts Pickett’s Charge, the climactic Confederate attack on Union forces during the Battle of Gettysburg on July 3, 1863.

The intended effect is to immerse the viewer in the scene being depicted, and includes the addition of foreground models and life-sized replicas of cannons and fences to enhance the illusion. The presentation comes to life with a narrated story, loud cannon booms and rifle fire while flashes of light behind the canvas give life to the cannon blasts.

It’s stunning to contemplate the number of artists and the creativity used to produce a painting of this size and complexity.


A small segment of the cyclorama



We’ve titled this road trip “The Country Music and Civil War Tour 2013

Travelling these middle-America roads, just like our other travels, has made me ponder many great matters, both important and trivial.

For instance — and you’ve probably asked yourself this question a thousand times …

Which is better, Pancake or Waffle?

Waffles or Pancakes

I throw myself firmly into the Pancake camp. None of those difficult nooks and crannies that catch too much peanut butter or syrup. Warm, tender, fragrant. It’s the perfect breakfast food for getting the day started.

However, the waffle is winning the hearts of those who stay in the hotels of America. The mid-range hotels with brand names like La Quinta, and Best Western all provide a breakfast to varying degrees as part of the package for spending the night between their sheets.

The breakfast, whether simple continental or sumptuous hot buffet, always has THE WAFFLE MAKER.

Nine nights on the road, sampling from a different hotel each morning, has made me the quintessential waffle connoisseur of North America.

Just pour the premade thick batter from a plastic cup onto the round griddle surface, close the lid, flip the whole thing over on a pin, and two and a half minutes later, out pops a golden-brown waffle. Perfect, every time … almost!

Never one to look too carefully, or read instructions (come on, I AM a man!), one morning, I scooped the mix sitting to the right of the waffle maker and poured it over the searing metal plate of the appliance. As I closed the lid, I could see a sign to the left labelled “waffle mix”.

Huh? What did I just ladle into the waffle maker? OHHHH, that would be the oatmeal porridge, just like the little sign said beneath its container.

So, did I panic? Not a chance. Quickly I poured some of the REAL waffle mix over the bubbling oatmeal frying in the maker and closed the lid with a little prayer. I waited with anticipation.

Two and a half minutes later, the beeper sounded indicating the waffle was finished cooking.

I lifted the lid, and there sat a PERFECT golden-toned waffle with extra oatmeal specks, steaming and smelling deliciously wonderful.

So please forgive me for being so glib, but BREAKFAST, like WAR, is HELL!

The first thing I'm going to do when this war ends is eat a pancake ...

The first thing I’m going to do when this war ends is eat a pancake …

The New Adventures of Walton’s Mountain …



Goodnight Jim-Bob … Goodnight Mary-Ellen… Goodnight Mama…………. Goodnight Elizabeth.

Ike Godsey, the Baldwin sisters, the Recipe, Charlottesville.

If you don’t recognize any of these familiar words and names then you probably won’t want to read on any further.

I’m on a good old-style road trip through 9 U.S. states, finding a part of America previously unknown to my eyes.

Yesterday, leaving the musical fumes of country behind, we motored out of Music City, Nashville, in the early morning haze, heavy fog and mist layered like cotton-batting over the green deciduous hillsides.

We headed east on the wide, truck-loaded freeways, escaping Tennessee, a few hours later finding ourselves in the state of Virginia. Every 5 to 10 miles there’s an off-ramp leading to an almost identical collection of gas depots, hotels and McDonalds, Burger King, Cracker Barrel, Applebee’s, Bob Evans, and Subway.

To escape the monotonous sameness of it all, we had our lunch at a tiny little country diner called the Rose Garden, filled with southern-drawled locals who said “uh-huh” instead of “you’re welcome”. Soupy vegetable servings of crowder peas and creamed corn were served up alongside deep fried bread balls and breaded catfish.

Our slightly plump waitress Desiree looks puzzled when we ask what crowder peas might be — “Duh, they’re peas that grow in a field”. No, she didn’t say it but her face says it all the same.

And when there’s a chair available at a customer’s table, she sits down to take the weight off her feet and write down the order. Bathroom condom dispensers are hidden behind metal-hinged covers with dire warnings not to lift the lid if you are offended by family planning products. Who has time to pee when there’s so much illicit fornication going on in these here parts?

The car’s GPS soon had us cruising our way through the twisting back roads of rural Virginia, turning up and dipping down the narrow, shoulder-less roads heavily lined with trees leading to the boyhood hometown of Earl Hamner Jr., creator of the popular 1970′s-80′s TV show The Waltons.

As a young teenager growing up in a city, I was enthralled by The Waltons and their simple, heartwarming country ways. The loving family portrayed once a week at 8 pm was reassurance that we can always feel at home when in the comforting cocoon of our family.

I was a hybrid of characters John-Boy and Erin. To be a famous, dedicated writer like John-Boy was romantic. He had a charisma and calm confidence I wanted; Erin wore her vulnerability like a warm sweater and had a desire to be attractive and a need to be liked that I could see in myself.

Now you might think that using high-tech GPS would make locating this obviously famous museum in the back hills of Virginia dedicated to the popular TV show a simple matter.

You would be wrong.

There are winding hills and narrow roads and back alleys in eddies running through these hills. We bobbed and weaved, we U-turned and practically genuflected before finally arriving in the little hamlet of Schuyler, Virginia.

Schuyler (pronounced “Sky-ler”) is not unlike coming into most any well-hidden mid-American village. There’s one gas station and one general store. Peering up the hill from the general store you can see a swath of trees disguising a red-brick building that looks like a church, which it should since at one time, it was.

Today, this is THE WALTON’s museum.

The gravel-stoned parking lot could hold 50 cars easily, but this afternoon there are just 2 others besides our little rental Nissan Versa.

We pull open the front door to the building and can see down a narrow hallway to the opening of a spacious room that looks like a gymnasium. Just at the entry to the gym sits a little elderly lady behind a table the size of a card table with a white table cloth on top.

A little metal box sits in front of her that holds the dollar bills that she collects from the tourists that come from all over the world. Smiling sweetly at us with big red lipstick lips, she takes the $8 cash for each entry and slips us a single pamphlet about the museum.

Glancing around the “gym”, it looks like a Grade 8 class has just taped their school social studies projects to the walls for a parent interview night.

One 50′s-ish gentleman stands at the far end of the room, watching us intently as we begin our tour. While we inch along the walls, reading the articles and looking at the photos, he inches forward bit-by-bit in our direction.

There are lots of yellowing and dog-eared photographs of the Walton’s cast. There are newspaper clippings. There are certificates and awards given to the show and the actors.

We come to a little photo contest on the wall just as the dark but thin-haired man from the end of the room finally meets up with us.

On the wall in front of us, there’s a Hollywood-style headshot photo of a handsome young man. With an unusual smirk, “Mr. Museum Man” asks if we know which character the man portrayed in the 7th season of the show. I know this!

–It was Mary-Ellen’s husband.

–Right, he said. Which one?

Huh, Mary-Ellen had more than one? I didn’t remember Mary-Ellen had married more than once.

–Uh … the physician?

–NOPE, it was her second, veterinarian husband.

SHAME! He looked out from behind his black-circled eyes at me with a smugness and barely-concealed glee before confidently launching into all sorts of Walton’s trivia.

He was a miner for weakness and he knew he had found a motherlode. He had me against the ropes and began pounding me senseless knowing he had trapped a weak opponent. His sad, lonely day at the museum had suddenly found some meaning and excitement. There was a spark in his eyes and voice.

Breathless and bleeding, I escaped from his trivia-grasp as quickly as I could and hid in one of the little off-rooms that held replicas of the Walton’s spacious kitchen, or John-Boy’s bedroom that had a desk where he wrote his stories overlooking the front yard of the farmhouse.

I was enjoying re-living some of my early TV-watching childhood and it felt warm and good. I almost forgot about my wild-eyed museum stalker until…

I needed to visit the toilet facilities.

A few days earlier, I had learned pretty quickly when we passed through the custom’s kiosk entering into the U.S. that my use of the term “WASHROOM” would not be understood in these fair southern states. “BATHROOM” got me the same blank look if I asked a gas station attendant or waitress. “RESTROOM” is the appropriate term to describe the toileting location. Got it!

I headed off seeking out the “facilities” and unable to find them on my own, I reluctantly resorted to asking my new-found black-eye-rim friend.

–Where could I find the washroom, sir? Sorry, I mean RESTROOM”

–It’s OK, we get lots of Canadians visiting us here, he said. I know what a washroom is. As a matter of fact, the majority of our visitors come from 3 places … Australia, Ontario, and British Columbia.

–Really? That’s amazing … We’re here from British Columbia. Well, how many BC visitors do you think you’ve had here so far this season?

Without flinching he answered.

– Hmmm … I think you’re our first British Columbia tourist here this season.

OK …I was left with no reasonable response to that answer, so I turned without a smirk, I think, and found the “restroom” he had pointed out to me.

Five minutes later we exited the museum into the bright Virginia sunshine. Before we could pull out of the parking lot, another four cars from four different states took a spot in the lot. Rush hour had finally arrived on Walton’s Mountain.

We’ve grown so accustomed to our world being a stupefying wonder of high technology and awe-inspiring glitzy entertainment.

The Walton’s TV show in the 1970′s reminded me as a young teenager of a simpler time that existed in the days of my parents’ and grandparents’ childhoods. There was a cozy safe feeling that stayed with you when the sweet harmonica triplet ended each episode and the last light was extinguished in the Walton farmhouse.

Spending time in a tiny museum in the backwoods of rural Virginia took me away from the hectic modern-day world and showed me that even a bit of quirky simplicity still has charm, even in the 21st century.

The presence of a 90 year-old sleeping lady at a museum front desk and creepy Mr. Museum Guy weren’t going to steal away my warm and fuzzy feeling.

Wonder of Wonders, Miracle of Miracles …


I’m sitting on an eastbound Westjet airplane gracefully gliding over the mountains and prairies of Canada, so this will be the first blog post I’ve published with no photos. In their place I’ll try to be a tiny bit more descriptive and make the words become my pictures.

Sitting along the aisle in the back of this 737 jet, I’m taking in the ballet of the 3 flight attendants, women doing their synchronized pliés, dipping and swaying, their arms in unison with soft drinks first, cookie packages next. Yes, there are free cookies on this flight!

But let me move on …

I hate it but I love it … fall … or autumn if you prefer.

There is a melancholy richness and beauty to the days of September in the northern hemisphere. The scent in the air is a rich blend of flavours not unlike dipping your nose into a curved crystal glass that holds a quality wine hinting of citrus and vanilla and blackberry.

Only, in my area of western Canada, the aroma wafting in the air tends more to ripened red Spartan apples, long Ponderosa pine needles, and juicy Gewurtztraminer grapes maturing on vines strung up the rising umber hillsides of the Okanagan Valley.

My mixture of thoughts teeters back and forth between delight in the cool, crisp air and the sorry fact the night air is passing darkly into my home at ever earlier moments each day passing.

And too, for a man, there’s a certain sadness that arises from the sight of skirt hemlines drifting longer bit-by-bit in opposing contrast to the days growing shorter — the halter tops and the floral-festooned bikinis are slipped back into dresser drawers, while sandaled toes go underground into closed-toed pumps and running shoes. So sad.

September strikes like a true New Year as our focus changes from smoky summer BBQ’s and beach visits and fresh greek salads made from garden-ripened tomatoes and cucumbers, to a more business-like, serious back-to-reality scene. Work, school, meeting, study, a refreshed mindset takes hold.

When I awake in the morning, I usually swear a little under my breath about the surrounding darkness that was filled with bright orange sunlight just 6 weeks earlier.

I turn my ear to the morning news on CBC radio, although I’m not really listening. It’s all a part of the process needed that takes me 10 or 15 minutes before I can convince myself to get up and start to approach the day ahead.

I go through the mental self-talk checklist about what a great day it will be and the the fun I’ll have at spin class or interacting with my co-workers. I really need a life coach sitting at the end of my bed jumping up and down with pom poms to convince me that I shouldn’t just roll over and close my eyes. GIVE me an “L” …

But life is about far more than the routines of waking up, then getting up and meandering through our days, sipping on a sugar-saturated Starbucks pumpkin latte.

Life in today’s world is filled with miracles, and not, for me at least, of the religious kind sung so passionately about by Motel, the tailor, in Fiddler on the Roof.

As the cool September air ushers in a “new year”, I have a stream of consciousness floating through my head as I drift high above the clouds sipping clamato juice from the little plastic cup on my seat tray.

We live in a world of miracles.

Today, I want to tell you about just a couple of miracles in my life.

1. I’m flying like a bird thousands of metres above the hard ground below at speeds faster than any bird has ever flown — and I’m eating cookies and watching a 30 million dollar movie on the back of the seat in front of me. This is costing me about two days of my employment earnings. That’s a miracle.

2. My wife makes me a peanut butter and banana sandwich for my lunch every day that I go to work, and she still often laughs at my stupid sense of humour. That is a miracle too.

3. I’ll be driving a car from Ontario to Tennessee this week. As I motor along, a lovely lady’s voice on a little machine on the dashboard will stay awake the entire way patiently giving me directions for every step on the route. If I falter, she won’t yell at me and call me stupid. Just, “at your first opportunity, make a legal U-turn”. She’s great and a true miracle.

4. My children and I have never ever lived our lives worrying about troops marching through our town. Not once in my lifetime have I fretted that my son or daughter will be called up for a military campaign, unlike the sons and daughters of the graves of American Civil War veterans I’ll be visiting in just a few days.Yup, a miracle.

5. I’ll be sitting in the Grand Ole Opry auditorium in Nashville in a few days. Tickets for the 6 famous-performer-show were purchased in 5 minutes on the computer I type on now, and printed in my home office 3,000 kilometres away from Tennessee. Miracle!

6. Yesterday morning, I drove past an idyllic set of fields and pastures growing sweet corn as high as an elephant’s eye, on the other side of the road I spotted meandering, silently munching, black and white Holstein milk cows. In my mind, I could convince myself that I was living in the bucolic and simple world of 150 years ago. I can have the best of 2 worlds in a 5 minute span. Just one more miracle.

Our lives can be lived in a vacuum of vacuuming and grocery shopping.

The lottery of life can be a tapestry of richness and experience, the wonder of humanity so much greater than the pursuit-of-sugar or nectar-life of the ant or bee. And it doesn’t require a plethora of activity or frenetic pursuit of experience.

Often, it just means opening our ears to the sound of the voices surrounding us, the observation of wind rustling the leaves of a red maple tree, or the scent of cinnamon-oatmeal cookies baking in a hot oven.

Life can be so complex, but when we slow down, it can also be so miraculously simple.

Take My Wife’s Pad … Please!

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Feminine pad

Feminine hygiene products were just about the furthest thing from my mind when I signed on to become a medical lab tech in the 1970’s.

I was fully prepared for thick, crimson blood in glass tubes and straw-coloured urine in clear plastic containers. I was even able to entertain the thought that I would deal with an occasional stinky stool sample in an AIRTIGHT container. The thought of any other sample types just never floated into my consciousness.

But hell, I’m flexible and can adjust on the fly just like you and everyone else out there, right?

Every field has its unusual somewhat surreal moments. Well, this is one of mine.

A few years back, a fellow female lab staff member asked me if I would come to the front desk of the laboratory. A male patient had asked to speak with a male employee — men in labs are a fairly uncommon commodity, don’t ask me why? — and as I was the only man on site that morning, I agreed to come and see what it was he needed.

E. coli urine sample

I replaced the plastic lid back onto the agar plate growing bright-pink E.coli bacteria colonies from a urine sample, set it back onto my desk and headed to the front of the lab.

I greeted a man in his mid-30’s. We shook hands and then I led him into the small pathologists’ office and pushed the door closed for privacy. Curious to know what was coming, I perched my backside onto the corner of the large wooden desk that rested next to the window.

-Good morning, I’m Larry Green, a lab technologist … what can I do for you today?

Well, I’m hoping you can do some lab tests that will tell me if my wife is having an affair.

SAY WHAT!!!??? I began to plot my escape…

Well Sir, I’m not sure I know of any lab test that can do that.

The man combed his fingers through his hair and nervously cleared his throat. Then he reached into the bottom of his coat pocket. He fished and fumbled around a bit before extracting a small white, tightly rolled-up bundle, and with a sad look in his eyes, held it out for me to see.

Interesting … looks like a marshmallow … or … oh no … a feminine hygiene PAD!

–I took this, my wife’s used tampon from the garbage basket at home. I’m pretty sure she’s been having sex with another man. Do you think that you can test the tampon for the presence of semen? I have to know if there’s something going on but I can’t bring myself to ask her directly. If you could find out if there’s another man’s sperm on this, I would know for sure.

Wife-Got-Caught-Cheating Cow

He outlined to me how he had been suspicious about an affair for some time, and explained in WAY WAY more detail than I needed about when he thought sexual escapades had occurred.

I tried my hardest not to appear stunned at the request and his story but I’m sure I must have looked gobsmacked.

Struck by the black humour of the situation, I had a brief moment of horror where I thought I might burst out laughing; wouldn’t that have been terrible? This was an obviously distressed fellow, and a bout of laughter on my part would have devastated him I’m sure.

My mind raced for an answer to the situation.

An infidelity lab test?

Did I look like Ann Landers? Or Dr. Oz or Phil?

Ummm, I’m sorry but I don’t think I can do anything to help you because it could result in legal action on either your’s or your wife’s part. You have some pretty grave concerns here. I think you might want to contact a lawyer and ask what you might do if you would like to pursue this further.

He thought about it.

He looked heartbroken and defeated, and probably felt pretty humiliated just having to explain the situation to a stranger. But he hesitantly agreed and said that he understood.  He slipped the biological “evidence” back into his pocket.

We shook hands again — I washed mine thoroughly as soon as he left — and I escorted him to the lab’s front door.

I last saw the poor shrunken man slip like a ghost through the doorway of the stairwell and disappear.

What would you do?

As he walked away, I began to think of what I would do in the same situation. How low can a person sink when they feel another is doing them an injustice?

I felt really badly for this guy. Not just because of what he thought his wife had done, but also because he had allowed himself to become a victim. Granted, human frailties are a part of what we are and, like it or not, we can’t just turn them off with a switch. Frailties? Yes, I have a few.

But this man didn’t own his own world. He was a slave to someone else’s actions and decisions. And instead of finding a way to deal head on with the pain he was feeling, he came to me looking for the answer.

He was like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. He wanted to spin free on the hillsides, his arms spread wide, singing to the open skies surrounding him.

But instead, he was crouching hidden in the dark corners of life, making himself a prisoner of the dictator inside his own head. He was his own cruel Nazi captor. There was nothing I could offer him that would let him out of his self-made cell.

A face-to-face talk with his wife or a sit-down chat with a counsellor would take him to a better place than a visit with a hapless, helpless lab tech like me.


I have a difficult time now each time I wander past the feminine hygiene aisle in the supermarket. These products may allow women to joyfully live through “Life’s ups and downs, cycles and changes” and to Have a Happy Period.

But the pretty pictures of butterflies and smiling young girls on the packaging just make me feel sad for the one sorrowful fellow I met who went through his own very difficult “period”.

Somehow, working with stinky stool samples never seemed as bad to me after that day.

And occasionally, just occasionally, when no one is watching, I just want to put down my culture plates, stand up and twirl carefree beside my desk.


The Heart of the Matter

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This existence of ours is as transient as autumn clouds. To watch the birth and death of beings is like looking at the movements of a dance. A lifetime is like a flash of lightning in the sky, rushing by, like a torrent down a steep mountain.” – The Buddha



In 1989, Don Henley ( of the band EAGLES) and JD Souther wrote a beautifully bittersweet song called THE HEART OF THE MATTER (listen to it here)sometimes referred to as FORGIVENESS — adapted from the title of a 1948 book written by Graham Greene.grahamgreene

What is this “heart of the matter“?

Is it the meaning of life? Is it the loss of love? Is it plunging deep beyond the surface truths to the underlying core of reality in life and relationships?

Henley’s own heart of the matter calls to the surface the intense pain he feels when he learns that his former fiancé is now in love with someone new.

Author Greene sees the heart of the matter as referring to failure, as well as the price we all pay for our individualism and the impossibility of truly understanding another person.

We all have a Heart of the Matter meaning that is unique to our lives in one form or another.

My heart of the matter at one time seemed to be a matter of the heart, or so I thought.

In my mid-20’s I started having panic attacks. Of course I thought I was the only one to have this frightening experience, but I soon discovered that I wasn’t standing alone on the deck of that ship. At all.

Initially, the bouts came on in the workplace or social situations or even in anticipating social situations. My heart would start to race and thump like it was trying to explode out of my chest. I would feel the swelling wave of anxiety rise; the inside of my head would cloud in like it was filled with cotton batting. Before I knew it I was hyperventilating and certain I was having a heart attack. Classic panic attack.

As time passed, these surges of alarm would arise unprovoked, just lying in bed or whatever.

ANOTHER heart attack?

panic attack

I knew the likelihood was infinitesimally slight, but in the moment and amid the sensations, rational thought just wasn’t available to me. I ended up rushing to the ER a couple of times and after ECG’s and some blood tests, all was normal, except for the one damn Chilliwack ER doc who mistakenly thought I had a faulty heart valve … you think I had anxiety before?

Psychologically, I began preparing myself to die and through the process grew increasingly calm and accepting of whatever fate lay ahead. The strongest feelings for wanting to live on were in wanting to have children that could carry a small piece of my DNA forward.

It took about 2 tense years before a prescient Emerg GP ordered a simple thyroid test and I was found to have hypothyroidism. A couple of weeks of hormone replacement meds and I began to feel normal’ish once again, although the anxiety feelings took a while longer to subside. I had my life back thanks to a little pink pill that cost about 15 cents per day.

That doctor looked deeper than the surface symptoms and found my heart of the matter — even though it wasn’t my heart that mattered — and with some simple treatment, I was able to get back on track again.

A New  HEART of the MATTER


The heart of the matter means something different to me these days. Now, it’s what I come to unexpectedly when I’m writing these blog posts.

Off the cuff, I’m not a solidly academic, well-thought out person. Verbally, I’m almost inept in terms of forming coherent thoughts in the moment. I’m so wholeheartedly jealous of those who can instantly formulate and express out loud their solid opinions and viewpoints in a smooth, flowing manner.

If I stand to give a toast or an impromptu speech of any sort, I’m a lost cause. I’ll do it, mind you,  just don’t expect the Gettysburg Address from these Lincoln-less lips. Desert sands whip and swirl and howl in my ears and wipe away or smother any fertile thoughts. This is where writing becomes my saviour … hallelujah!

Normally, each Monday morning I sit at my home computer, a steaming, sweet latte on my left, the sun just beginning to unleash a few loose strands of orange light through the window.

Latte Kitty

I (sometimes successfully) ward off the e-mail demons calling out to be read, and begin composing a blog post. It will begin with a germ of an idea, a small vision or a concept that intrigues me. It has to have a kernel of a universal message so that I’m not strictly navel-gazing.

Then I charge in with wild typing abandon not knowing where the road will lead.

I do this intentionally.

Sometimes, the idea courses a dry, lifeless riverbed but more frequently it develops and swells into a torrent. A new life is born on the screen and it just materializes out of the ether that is my subconscious. The heart of the matter surfaces almost unbidden.


With every in-breath
you are adding to your life
and every out-breath you are releasing what is not contributing to your life.
Every breath is a re-birth.”
― Allan Rufus

Where does it all lead?

I’m seeking out change and renewal and intensity in every direction. I’m finding re-birth in a bouquet of thoughts and activities that I ignored previously.

It’s exciting to me, and when I feel a case of nerves arising, I remind myself that whenever I’ve jumped into something new and novel, the end result has always been worthwhile and satisfying, like chocolate sprinkles on a banana split.

My little ADHD mind grows impatient frequently, so the directions I pursue may not last forever; in fact, they probably won’t. I accept and allow myself room to change.

The key to my heart of the matter rests contentedly in my pocket, waiting to open whichever door I choose.

heart keys