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Out of The Frying Pan…

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Over my years I’ve scuba-dived and sky-dived.

I’ve ziplined and schussed, tobogganed down a volcano and parasailed. I’ve munched on guinea pig and bull’s testicles, and sipped snake wine.

But… now? Who needs bungee jumping, speed-skiing, or parachuting for that adrenaline shot?

Not me… anymore… because…

I live in British Columbia.

Living on Canada’s west coast in British Columbia today is living life on the edge.

Over the decades I’ve not-so-humbly gloated over the incredible natural wonders of this place I’ve chosen to spend almost all of my adult life.

Clean air and water are mere add-ons to the glories of spectacular mountains, pristine lakes and forests, and the fruit-laden valley that I wake up to each day. Yes, I live in an earthly Garden of Eden.

Magnifying this wonder I’ve seen and experienced, has been the abundant peacefulness of this province’s climate and geology.

Hot, non-humid summers, and mild’ish low-snow winters (in the valleys) make my home a bona fide Jewel in the Crown.

Now comes the BUT…

Today, while I love this place with fervour, I recognize the jewel is becoming badly scratched and the crown’s gold adornments tarnished.

A one-off, freak occurrence I brush off like early November snowflakes on my nose.

Two times and I get suspicious…

News reports that hold the power to fill us with impending doom… well, used to be, I’d lazily gloss over, utter a tsk tsk, and have another sip of my sweet-scented Gewurtztraminer (what does this say about my empathy gene?).

We’re all cracked, damaged, dinged yet simultaneously comforted because “it” hasn’t happened to us. We happily read books filled with sordid stories that provide us a safe place to “feel and heal”. 

Earthquakes and floods, tornados, hurricanes and fires are things that usually happen to someone else, the same kind of stuff that we think about when fatal motor vehicle crashes and home invasions happen… until… they happen to us.

Danger and tragedy are far more meaningful when they are in our own world space.

We all expect the very occasional “once-in-a-hundred-years” event to drop down on us. But once-in-a-hundred loses all meaning when it comes around yearly or every couple of years.

The freak climactic occurrences of BC are now the new normal.

Summer forest fires threaten huge tracts of land and thousands of homes, not to mention the innocent wildlife that succumbs to the infernos.

The odd year where summer fire doesn’t cause evacuations of thousands of homes is the “freak” year.

Huge atmospheric rain storms have just unleashed massive flooding, extensive highway and rail damage, caused the deaths of tens of thousands of livestock, and dislodged thousands of people from their homes due to this water torrent.

(https://globalnews.ca/video/8381738/b-c-floods-heroic-horse-rescue-amid-heavy-flooding-in-merritt)

Me and my family here in the Okanagan Valley have been hugely lucky to have barely felt a scratch due to this latest weather phenomenon. My biggest concern? Stores have no milk or yogourt. Kale is missing on the shelves. Big deal.

I’d love to once again gloss over with my wine glass and see this as one more oddity, that once-in-a-lifetime thing that we still talk about 50 years later (like the big flood of 1948 in BC that my in-laws often spoke of) because it was so unusual… but… I know it’s not.

This water deluge, like the perennial summer fires, is now part of the new everyday.

You may have a new normal in your part of the world too… in fact, I suspect you do. Get used to it.

This all makes me sad because it’s been largely preventable, and even now, when we see the writing on the wall, we continue to say the right things but live our lives in contradiction to what we see and know to be true.

I’m as guilty as anyone out there. I’m complicit.

I can point out areas where I may be more “saintly” than others, but my halo is still tattered and I know it.

Our lifestyle choices… the world’s lifestyle choices… is akin to drinking demons from a fire hose.

My home is in a place I call a Garden of Eden, but the reality says my backyard has been sown with the seeds of a Garden from Hell.

A Man With A Shrug…

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Yes, I shrug… maybe I’m the wrong colour…

My last name should be Grey, not Green.

I see grey everywhere in a world that is often painted and presented to me in binary form… yes or no… black or white.

I change my mind at almost every corner.

You could call me Mr. Wishy-Washy, but you know, I take this as a point of pride.

I’d even humbly suggest it’s a sign of later-life wisdom.

In my late teens and early twenties, my favourite book was Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, a book promoting Rand’s political philosophy of individualism. I bought her whole storyline of Darwinian survival of the strongest individual, screw the rest of the weak world. I was strong. I was invincible. I was just like Helen Reddy, minus woman parts!

OK, I lied… my favourite “read” was actually A Man with a Maid, an early Victorian porno version of 50 Shades of Grey.

For a young dude it was erotically titillating with the use of shackles and seductive feathers in a man’s quest to rape women, although it was never laid out as rape; girls really just needed an education in how their bodies could be pleasured.

Seen exclusively through a man’s eyes, women in this tale came around to loving him and embracing their hidden sexual soul once they learned the charming and sensuous ways of his lust. *Nope, sorry fella, it’s just rape*

Today, neither Atlas Shrugged, nor A Man with a Maid find an exalted place on my book reading list. They’re in my remainder bin because…

I’ve changed.

I almost shrug in embarrassment to think that I enjoyed either novel, or welcomed things into my head that I now see as repugnant.

But, along the unending road to understanding, compassion, and seeing the world through the eyes of others, I can take some satisfaction in knowing that maybe, just maybe, I’m smart enough and flexible enough to change my opinion, any opinion, based on new insights or facts brought to my attention.

At times the metamorphosis I undergo is just so GD clear and obvious, while at other times it happens with me flailing on the floor, kicking and screaming. Whichever way it occurs doesn’t really matter so long as the change takes place.

Whether its Rand’s individualism, A Man With A Maid’s rape culture, drug laws, or LGBTQA+ rights, … whether it’s politics or philosophy, science or climate change, human rights or economics, or anything else you might name, the critically important point I aim for is to keep an openness to ideas.

An openness to saying… I think I’m right, but I might not be; I need to consider the issue from many angles.

A wide-eyed openness to scrutinize and question, evaluate and internally debate…continually learn… it’s too easy and lazy and bullheaded to merely rationalize with this is what I’ve always believed, or this is what my parents or teachers or clergy taught me.

And of course, to be fair, it’s equally important to recognize, after reflecting as calmly as a Hindu cow, when a change truly isn’t necessary or desirable when the only good reason is… because… it just is.

Because is kindergarten thinking.

Sure, I’m Mr. Wishy-Washy.

I even get frustrated with myself at times because of my vision of “greyness” in so much of the world.

Oh well…*shrug*… sucks to be ME!! Or does it?

Once Upon A Bromance

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Like Butch and Sundance, I’m in a Bromance.

My man and I have an especially unusual bromantic connection that spans international borders…

… by language, religion, ethnicity, age, cultural traditions… just about everything about us is, or was, different.

Although we’ve “been together” now for almost 4 years – getting together a couple of times a week – over the past year and a half we’ve spent even more time together than previously.

Depending on the rules of the COVID day, we’ve shared cups of steaming coffee or tea via ZOOM or at the local college or at 6 a.m. in a Tim Hortons’ coffeeshop, me and my Syrian bro (student/friend)…

… to study with intent for the Canadian Citizenship test.

We read and discuss, laugh and tease, he’ll go off topic like he did yesterday with an excited story about his daughter winning a new bicycle in a school contest, or even sometimes grousing over our problems.

This gentle man and his wife (and 5 beautiful, enthusiastic young kids) are exiled refugees that have been living in Canada for close to 6 years.

Each day they become just a tiny bit more “Canadian”… no, not yet by law or official decree, but for sure by custom and language.

I can perceive this change intently when he speaks in idioms to me: “Oh Larry, you’re Over The Hill!”, or, “Are you pulling my leg?“, or, when he casually orders a “double-double” now at Tim Hortons.

He’s not the only one who’s changed… yup, he’s changed me too.

I greet him each time we meet, As-salamu alaykum… (Peace be upon you)… my understanding and knowledge of Syria, the Middle East, Arabic language, and the Muslim faith have all bloomed too.

In much the same way that I learn about myself by writing these blog posts, I find that I learn about myself by working and chatting with a man who has been tossed across the globe to live in my country, my culture, so that his family can be safe from bombs and bullets and torture.

Never in his wildest dreams did he see a life in largely white-skinned, Christian-dominated, English-speaking North America as part of his future.

Never in my wildest dreams did I envision spending hundreds of hours explaining what it means to be Canadian to a young, Arabic-speaking, brown-skinned Muslim man.

He looks to me for learning, cultural understanding, and even basic knowledge that eluded him in his homeland. I shook my head in disbelief when I realized he had no idea there was an ocean (what’s an ocean?) separating Syria from Canada.

It’s clear that he’s had an awakening… BIG TIME!

I can tell because… long ago… I had one too.

My awakening came over 40 years ago when I left my hometown of Hamilton.

My eyes were opened by seeing different geographies and histories, architectures, ideologies and politics, and and and… I was wearing translucent blinders (and still am no doubt) because I had never had the opportunity to see and experience what was behind other doors.

If you spend your whole life only seeing the colour green, red has no meaning.

These new experiences were a little like a hallucinogenic LSD trip. Colours and textures were changing, my understanding rose bit by bit. The light rainbow had changed and would never go back to where it was… ever.

Today I know to actively look for other “colours” in the world.

I see this same vision of new light and colours in my Syrian friend. It’s scary and exciting for him. I get it.

OK, back to where we began this post.

What is it to be Canadian?

For those who’ve not studied or seen a citizenship test (Canadian or otherwise)… it ain’t a walk in the park for a native-born Canadian, a university graduate from another country… and certainly not an elementary-schooled Syrian.

Citizenship isn’t handed out like pre-wrapped candies at the door on Halloween.

One “earns” citizenship by working hard to understand the history and culture of this young country, this Canuck land painted one stroke at a time with thousands of years of indigenous history and millions of immigrant stories.

I have my fingers crossed that my young “bromantic” partner and his family will soon wave the Maple Leaf as new Canadians and become sewn into this quilt of many colours.