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The Day My Dad Was Sick And I Began My Journey to Wisdom

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father son

My Dad and I were never close.

Nope, not even close to close.

We were acquaintances who happened to live under the same roof for 16 years. Ghosts treading the same floors in different dimensions.

I’ve spent many years feeling bitterness and resentment towards the man who housed, fed and clothed me.

There was no abuse … sure, the occasional routine spanking – it was still the era of spare the rod and spoil the child – no, my beef with my father was benign neglect.

He never joined in with my mother at my school events, attended my hockey games, or helped with delivering my newspapers when the snow was deep the way Mom did. He never helped with my homework or joined me in making little plastic car and airplane models, never threw a baseball my way. He didn’t teach me how to drive or tell me that one day I’d have to shave hair from the edges of my ears (really?!?).

I think that many of us harbour some ill feelings towards at least one of our parents.

It’s pretty amazing that these childhood feelings can linger for decades afterwards, which perhaps helps me understand why we prosecute war criminals and sexual predators (yes, YOU Harvey W.) many years after the acts occurred. The hurts stick to you like flypaper.

In the early winter of 1974 I was on a French class school trip to Quebec City … what joyous fun and freedom it was for a 16 year old to share a hotel room with two buddies in a “foreign” city…

… to experience the Quebec Winter Carnival, taste the frozen maple taffy, cavort with Bonhomme Carnaval, eat filet mignon in an historic old restaurant, and sip French wine (yes, underaged!) with classmates from long plastic canes designed to secretly tote alcohol.

And there were girls on the trip! Even more, there were teenage girls in the Quebec streets who spoke… French! Oh Mon Dieu…

Bonhomme carnaval

Then the phone rang in my hotel room and the fun ended all too soon.

Only a few months after my Mom’s unexpected death, my Dad had been diagnosed with acute leukemia and was being aggressively treated in hospital with nasty chemo chemicals to combat the blood cancer. There were yeast sores all through his mouth and he could barely drink. The chemotherapy designed to save him was brutal and life threatening all on its own.

The voice on the phone said that he was dwindling – quickly – and I should perhaps book a train ticket and return home ASAP if I wanted to say a final goodbye.

I “bravely-in-a-boys-don’t-cry-sort-of-way” held back any tears and began packing and lamenting the end of my teenage frolic en francais.

Shortly after I received another phone call… Larry, don’t worry, he probably isn’t as bad as we first thought, he should survive the next couple of days. Stay there and enjoy your time in Quebec.

Right.

Turns out my Dad survived the chemo (and leukemia) and lived another reasonably healthy 7 years.

And you might think that we became close (or closer) as a result of his illness and the near-death experience, but we didn’t. The big chill remained. The Hollywood happy ending never occurred in real life.

But. Over many years I’ve let the bitter taste dissipate. Melt and absorb back into the universe. It becomes so dilute that it can’t do any harm anymore.

I’m not perfect. I’ve realized that I’m a product of my upbringing and environment and so was my Dad. In his shoes: with his parents, school, and life experiences, would I be any different? I don’t know.

My Dad wasn’t a bad guy. In many ways, he was a good fellow, just not a good Dad to me.

I will never totally understand the man he was, but I understand now through my own life history how a life is molded and shaped … how diamond is often imperfectly formed over time from coal through heat and pressure.

You might say I’ve grown a tiny bit … which is really a synonym for older and … wait for it …

WISE?

WISDOM?

Maybe?

buddha

Boosting Your Empathy Muscle

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empathy2

Oh … good morning… and welcome. Only a month until Halloween!

I’m talking to myself here today, but you’re most welcome to listen in…

The word I’m hearing in my head is empathy.

Empathy is an elusive killer for me.

I search under the couch pillows for it (score, a nickel!) but can’t always find it.

Empathy is a daily battle against our internal hurricane forces.

Empathy is difficult for most of us. For Trump, empathy is a word that doesn’t even exist. Too bigly maybe.

Empathy is all about understanding. Flushing ignorance. Discovering compassion.

When I feel anger and distrust and suspicion and fear it’s often rooted in my lack of empathy, an inability to put myself in someone else’s shoes.

I see it over and over again in others too.

My Dad used to have a small slice of birch wood etched with the words from a poem titled Walk a Mile in His Moccasins written in 1895 by Mary T. Lathrap  (often attributed to various First Nations tribes):

Pray, don’t find fault with the man that limps,
Or stumbles along the road.
Unless you have worn the moccasins he wears,
Or stumbled beneath the same load.

There may be tears in his soles that hurt
Though hidden away from view.
The burden he bears placed on your back
May cause you to stumble and fall, too.

Here’s an “empathy” example from this week:

It seems really strange to me when I’m helping out at the local soup kitchen and a fellow volunteer (sometimes several volunteers) gets pissed at the downtrodden clients at the serving window.

Stringy hair, missing teeth, stained and torn shirts, bruised eyes and vacant stares. Some better, some worse. All hungry.

Just yesterday a usually lovely, friendly woman chopping carrots next to me turned in snarl and said: … they’d have more success in getting volunteers to help out here if it wasn’t for all of these freeloading fruit pickers.

I cringed, blood filling my ears. Instantly – empathyless – I wanted to yell at her and add sarcastically: … sure, and how about all these drug addicts and homeless people that won’t go out and get a job?

angry vegeatbles

This is a double conundrum.

I’m hearing a lack of empathy for these folks in her anger, her refusal to wear another’s moccasins … plus I have to suppress the bitter distaste I feel towards her for her unkind beliefs and my struggle or refusal to wear her moccasins.

In my head I’m saying to her, why the hell do you come to work here (for free) if you don’t feel that the people coming in should get a free meal? This is a f*%#ing soup kitchen!

Angst comes from a lot of different directions.

It’s hard to see a homeless person in the street. Maybe you  have a relative in the hospital. Or a friend in jail. You’ve watched someone descend into an addiction. You scream and swear in a rage at the a**Hole that just cut you off in traffic.

I often don’t know how to deal with the vitriol in life. Sometimes I’ve been stupid and just avoided these people. That’s my fear speaking.

But no, I tell myself, this lady chopping veggies may have had a rough start to her day and her minor frustrations are boiling over in a weak moment. It happens to us all, right?

Maybe her house had a water heater leak overnight and caused a minor flood. Lots of maybes…

Of course being empathetic doesn’t mean you have to be abused by anyone. There are some people we’re better off leaving to stew in their sour anger and frustration. We can’t save everyone.

But we can take the time to breathe, think, and reflect and look a bit deeper for the reason, the root of someone’s anger, frustration or unhappiness.

Empathy takes time and patience and a positive view that sucks energy like an old 100 watt light-bulb.

Yes, empathy needs an energy generating bootcamp.

Compassion and empathy are muscles. And it’s important to exercise. Empathy bootcamp.

And the best way to change someone’s life is when they really need your help and you have the ability to give it, if only in gracious restraint and a willingness to accept that everyone has their own unique troubles.

Exercising empathy is probably the healthiest muscle to exercise.

Wise idea? Maybe…

I only hope I can listen to my own words going forward…

NB: This blog post is dedicated to the memory of Julia Christine Lane (1986-2019), a beautiful, compassionate, and highly empathetic soul.

empoathy heart

 

 

 

The Internationally Unintentional Era (Errors) of this Unwoke Man

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International Women's Day 2019

International Women’s Day?

Is it weird that we devote/commemorate a single day to fully half of the population of this planet?

Or is it weird that we feel we need to do this for some good reasons?

How could half the people alive today be in need of special recognition?

When will the day arrive that we nod our heads and reminisce nostalgically about the past need to strive for female/male equality in the same way we (should) reminisce about the early scourges of Smallpox or Scurvy?

Shhhhh…. this is not for sharing (good thing there isn’t such a thing as the internet where everyone can see!)… I have to admit that my job as a man in this world is more difficult as each day passes.

Hang on … I’ll wait a moment here for you to say … “awwwww“.

*Silence*

Yeah, I didn’t think I’d hear too much there. Could be my failing ears but I really don’t think that’s it.

silence.jpeg

Frankly, the difficulties I have to face as an older white dude are infinitesimally minimal to the struggles that so many others – in this case, women – face from the moment of their first cry until their final breath.

What I want to explain to you in today’s post is that I know from time-to-time I’m gonna step in the deepest, darkest gender shit, despite all my best efforts at being “woke”.

I’m kinda half-woke!

I’ve spent a good deal of my life’s days transitioning to a world where everyone should be truly valued at the same level of distinction…

… no matter their skin colour, their gender, their religious belief, their mental capacity and so on and so on (I have to add that etcetera part because I know I’m unintentionally excluding groups that should be delineated here, see?, the shit plops are EVERYWHERE).

I’ve learned … I’m learning … I’ve discontinued my childhood jokes about non-straight sexualities (how many young boys did I coarsely demean in high school?), I’ve hopefully stopped using derogatory words I once used to describe other ethnic groups, I try to use the most non-confrontational descriptors for every person and every group.

And still I stumble…

stumble2

I stumble … and yet I know there’s far worse than myself.

I gape and gasp in dismay; so much of what I see in the world still confirms the suppression of women.

If I were a praying kind of guy, I’d spend hours each day on my knees begging for God to give something even close to equality for women in dark oppressive countries and regions of repression, torture, abuse.

On a wholly personal level, it’s impossible for me as a Baby Boomer to be sufficiently aware of every possible transgression regarding – for today’s discussion – gender politics, to never say or make a judgment error.

I’m an OK guy but let me leave it like this…

I celebrate all women and the determination, intelligence, strength and yes, beauty, that they bring to the world.

Each of us, man, woman and any other, is transitioning daily to a world that changes in ways, minor and major, with each sunrise and each sunset.

So please, when I falter in my own personal transition and step in the stinky doo-doo I’ve dropped, it’s not for lack of trying.

Not everyone is magically accorded the advantages that I’ve largely taken for granted. My responsibility is to keep learning and learning, trying and trying … trying to find the words and means to build others up.

The last thing I want to do to any person is unknowingly, accidentally, ignorantly, lessen their esteem or feeling of individual power.

But sometimes I know I will, cuz I’m a part of this Unintentional Era of the Unwoke Man.

unwoke men.jpg

Yeah, still unwoke

Primal Scream

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Get out… NOW!!”

man yelling

WTH!… where is all this screaming coming from?

In reaction and haste, I try to slot the hot water sprayer back in its “holster” but miss the target and shoot a spray of steaming water onto the back of the trousers of Barb, one of the other volunteers.

She jumps in surprise but doesn’t seem scalded. She even smiles. Hallelujah!

I’m the soup kitchen dishwasher today – and turn around to see what the rowdy kerfuffle’s about in the dining hall.

Joe, one of the scruffy diners in the main eating area of the Soupateria is carrying a tattered plastic Value Village bag filled with 6 small canisters of propane.

I don’t know his why. Maybe he has a small Coleman stove he cooks his supper on in a cramped culvert pipe down by Okanagan Lake.

He’s worked himself into an infuriated lather.

Brawny Liv, the security lady that resembles Lucille Ball, is yelling at Joe to get the hell out of the building with the flammable/explosive material.

Instantly, they’re both lit, flammable and explosive.

Ear-piercing F*-Bombs are flying back and forth like shuttlecocks in a badminton match.

Other wide-eyed diners around the noisy display show a mixture of adrenalinized excitement, some fear. The anti-anxiety drugs may not be enough.

It’s just another round in a daily lunchtime set of mostly minor squabbles amongst folks who’ve lived and felt small, maybe excluded, maybe bullied. I don’t know anything except it’s loud and angry.

Volunteering a few days a month in a soup kitchen has probably been one of the more rewarding things I’ve ever done … partly it’s because of the internal stroking I get helping to relieve the discomfort in others’ lives, but more so because of the greater perspective others – different others – out there have given me in my world.

soup kitchen2.jpg

In many ways, the sights and sounds of this foreign world are surreal to my life’s experiences.

We all live in a rarified, kind of ignorant strata of life, don’t we?

It’s like taking a shovel and pushing into the soft earth. We lift the blade and see the layers, the various types of minerals and tiny pebbles that make up that microcosm of soil.

Then we dig in again and scoop down further and lift another strata of soil sub-structure. Now we notice that the types of minerals and composition of clay vs. sand vs. silt has changed from the first shovelful.

The world beneath us has changed in just one quarrying of the shovel.

Most of us never dig and bore in on the second or third shovelsful of humanity surrounding us. We believe that all of our world is made of the same soil because that’s all we’ve been exposed to.

We live and breathe within our own strata of life.

Growing up in Hamilton, Ontario, I believed everyone lived a similar life to my own. Didn’t every town and city have a mix of British-heritaged and Eastern-European and Italian families that loosely amalgamated as one group to work in factories that produced steel and cars and appliances with an abundance of smoke pumping out of their chimneys?

It wasn’t until I reached my twenties that I learned differently.

Thank God I had a fortuitous phone call with a job offer from Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories that flung open the doors and windows inside my head. That clear chill Arctic air changed my life forever as surely as Dorothy and Toto experienced plowing down into Oz post-tornado.

It shocks me that there are so many out there who are unwilling to accept the differences that make our world a special place.

differences.jpg

This year… today… I’m living in this surreal space north of an unguarded, supposedly friendly border where the seemingly unbelievable is bizarre reality.

The usually amiable country to my south is like the soup kitchen, filled with a confused mixture of folks who’ve lived and felt small, maybe excluded, maybe bullied. I don’t know anything except it’s loud and angry.

There are canisters of fiery propane exploding daily with every tweet.

The fetid anger and stink is blowing across the globe like a cloud emanating from a volcanic eruption. There is one mouth, one volcanic spew that’s precipitating a sensation of global chill.

I’m disturbed and gobsmacked by the “Ice Age” that’s descended so quickly.

All of this blah blah blah above really comes down to my need for some self-soothing.

It’s childlike and its primal. My thumb is getting way too wrinkled from spending so much time suckled inside my mouth.

More soothing? Reading through some course materials in the Screenwriting course I’m just beginning brought me this short monologue spoken by the character Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) in the movie, The American President:

……………

You want free speech?

Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.

You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can’t just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest.

Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms.

Then, you can stand up and sing about the “land of the free.” 

I wrap myself in a warm blanket of comfort when I spot intellectually rational, yet emotional memes and speeches that exude hope and positivity to push back against the rage and fear and ignorance.

It keeps my primal scream in check.

……………

It’s hard for me to put myself in the shoes of others and truly feel their pain.

That old Scout’s song, The Quartermaster’s Store called it right…

My eyes are dim I cannot see, I have not brought my specs with me…

But when I visit the soup kitchen, I pop on my specs and see that I’ve been “segregated” from parts of my own world that are difficult to understand.

When I travel to other countries and grasp the way others live and survive, I grow out of my ignorance.

Like any stressful period in human history, we all need to hold on and know that this moment, this challenging epoch… yes, This Too Shall Pass.

Brrrr… It’s a chilly autumn day here as I scan the grey, clouded Okanagan hillsides.

Chris, today’s chef du jour, has made 3 deliciously amazing soups for the folks in the Soupateria today: Tomato Vegetable, Bean and Bacon, and Seafood Chowder.

Why don’t we sit down together, and share a calming bowl of hot soup?

eyeglass of ignorance

 

 

 

I know I KNOW!! Seeking Answers? … Life is …

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Questions

Put your hand back down, or do you need to visit the bathroom? Can you wait just a minute? Thanks …

I don’t have the answer to your question.

Actually, I do have the answer, but you won’t want to hear it.

I’ve always found it funny that we expect definitive responses to all of our uncertainties.

Most of us seem to believe that humanity has solved the majority of life’s big hairy questions.

I beg to differ.

We’re not even close.

I know I’ll feebly inhale my last breath with innumerably more questions about everything I’ve seen and done than I’ll have answers. And this is in a GOOGLE world where “apparent” answers are instantly available.

A hundred years from now, hell, maybe in 10 years, I’ll bet dollars-to-donuts that we look back and juice our jeans in laughter at many of the things we swear to be true today.

You want an example? Sure …

We know with confidence now what causes heart attacks and all forms of cancer, right?

Of course NOT!! That was a trick question and you knew it.

The level of knowledge in the medical field is such that we believe our “experts” know the answer to every issue, every disease, every ache and pain-in-the-ass concern that comes running after us or our loved ones. Or they should know.

Doctors, trained to believe in their God-like abilities, often try to explain something, anything! to give their patients an answer. We all want answers. “Just tell me what I have and I can move on…”.

But so many questions ooze as seeping slickness out of the probing grasp of blood tests and MRI machines.

doctors god

Thirty years ago we believed that stomach ulcers were solely related to mental stress. WRONG!

Forty years ago we believed that homosexuality was an individual’s lifestyle choice. WRONG AGAIN!

Fifty minutes ago we believed that global warming brought on by human activity was ludicrous. WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!

But here is the BIG answer, the definitive response to life’s most difficult quandaries…

Are you ready? Brace yourself …

The answer to so many of life’s biggest questions?

… “WE DON’T KNOW”

don't know

WTF?? Beat’s me….

 

We really don’t know…

Life is mysterious. 

  • We don’t know if there’s a God … faith isn’t the same as fact …
  • We don’t know why some of us live to 100 and others sadly succumb before their 10th birthday… fairness has never entered the mathematical equation of life.
  • We don’t know why your friend has dramatic bipolar episodes … the brain is beyond Einstein’s or Elon Musk’s level of understanding …
  • We don’t know why some people with high cholesterol never suffer a heart attack… while others with rock bottom LDL levels who run marathons succumb to a life-ending myocardial infarction.
  • And, especially, we don’t know where you set your car keys down or where your reading glasses have disappeared to.

… there is no end ever to the creative magic we all contain within ourselves…

… there is no end ever to the riches we can create (both literally and metaphorically),

… there is no end ever to the questions we’ll face and not understand.

Life is mysterious and messy.

Because we don’t know all the answers, we can torture ourselves, constantly questioning, constantly worrying. Unanswered questions can be a necrotizing fasciitis, an internal flesh-eating disease in our minds.

For me, it comes down to the old Serenity Prayer, or at least my variation of its wisdom…

Grant me the serenity to acknowledge the things I know, The courage and determination to seek answers to the things I don’t know… And the wisdom to realize that not EVERY question I have WILL have an answer.

Mysteries will always overwhelm us if we allow them to.

Life is mysterious and messy and joyful.

Survival is about not expecting answers to every question. We can drive ourselves crazy if we believe we’ll truly know the who what where why when and how to everything.

Once we accept that mystery and shitty messes are a part of the human condition, the sooner we can return ourselves to a state of contentment and the pursuit of happiness … or … just like the Johnson & Johnson commercials say… whatever your State of Happiness is.

Now, what was I sa … Oh yeah, you had your hand up… Did that answer your question?

Fine… you may go to the bathroom … Dismissed!

bathroom break?

 

 

A Prelude To A But …

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so-you-think-you-can-dance-dancer-wallpaper

I was watching an episode of So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD) the other night.

I love this show filled with crazy-talented young dancers.

How is it possible for JaJa and Virgil and Gaby to master 3 or 4 formidably challenging new dances EVERY week?

I look for inspiration everywhere, ALL the time.

These dancing Olympians are inspiration defined.

As it was, light rain drops pattered against my living room window ledge – occasional quiet thunder rumbles rolled in like bowling balls careening down the lane towards the pins –  and the early evening sun was trying mightily to edge its way through the clouds to brighten the 50 shades of grey.

One of the chickens in the yard was squawking loudly like she was giving birth but all the eggs had already been laid for the day.

I turned my attention back to the TV screen as one of the SYTYCD judges, Jason Derulo, began his critique of a just-finished dance.

Then an unexpected lightning bolt crashed into my head … his words were a PRELUDE TO A BUT.

PRELUDE TO A BUT?

Derulo meandered and danced through his critique – his words filled with “great” this and “dope” that .

But it struck me in a puzzling fashion that just by the tone of his voice, the expression on his face and the usage of his words, it wasn’t going to be all sunshine that he was dishing up, he would be crashing this love party with something negative to add …

At some point in his next few sentences or paragraphs, there would be a big BUT …

Big But

Nope. NOT a big BUTT… A big BUT!

He had signalled a Prelude to a BUT …

But … how did I know that?

I’m gobsmacked that the human mind in its understanding of language and nuance to tone, can feel, sense a change, a foreshadowing of things to come.

We all do it. We watch and wait for the signs with keen intent.

Many years ago, in my teenage or young adult years, I’d hit those rare eclipse-like moments.

The instant where I summoned the knee-knocking courage and found myself meekly asking a sweet young candy-scented maid to a movie or dinner.

Those first few words that slipped from her delicious lips? The hesitation? The smile or dour look on her countenance?

They would tell me if I should begin cheering or shrinking away in embarrassment like a naked man in an icy cold shower.

It didn’t matter if her first words were “NO” because the prelude to the “No” was enough to signal the direction of my exaltation or humiliation.

I’d love to … (oh oh! No, don’t say it…) … BUT … I have a hangnail treatment scheduled that day.

Or better still, “I’d love to because  (yay… no BUT!) I’ve always wanted to sky-dive. Sure, that would be nice.” See? No pause, no prelude to a BUT!

When a doctor enters the cubbyhole office room or slowly saunters into the hospital room where his patient awaits?

We all know from real life experience or vicariously through watching any of a million TV hospital shows just what the “news” is going to be.

The smile or look of reticence on the physician’s face, the slow or optimistic slide of the shoes over the floor, the medical chart held close to the chest or swinging at the doctor’s side, the small corny joke … there are so many tiny nuanced markers that answer the questions that have yet to be asked.

And then the tone of voice, the inflection of the words. Listening for a prelude to a BUT.

“Your lab test results are all fine (oh no, frown on Doc’s face, slowing speech)BUT … the CT scan has a small shadow we need to look into”

Your lab test results are all fine (no hesitation, serene look on Doc’s face)AND … the CT scan looks clear.”

doctors-exam

My ears are buzzing. Did you say I have 2 days or 2 years to live?

Will she go to the movie with me? Did he love my dance performance? Do I have terminal cancer or organ failure?

In most cases we know almost instantaneously because we’ve learned to observe all of the tiny details that speak to us before words ever float through the air.

We know if the dark brown stuff flying towards us is shit or chocolate before we ever get to taste it because we are amazingly attuned to the fine details of spoken language and body language.

The SYTYCD contestants are strong-willed soldiers of positivity and great attitude. The hours and years of dedicated effort and pain and sacrifice that come through in their attempt to impress, mean little in this competition they’ve willingly jumped into.

They smile brightly at the bouquets and the brickbats sent their way. Occasionally a small willful tear escapes and slides down a cheek.

But.

They know in a Santa-flew-down-the-chimney-in-a-flash moment when the judges begin to speak and critique their work.

They know if it is all just a Prelude to a But.

Happy sad eggs