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A small ceramic Christmas tree sits on a table in our front hall. It’s not much of a tree – about 12 inches high, dark green, with whitish snow flaked on the ends of its branches. A light bulb inside shines out through coloured plastic plugs stuck into holes in the branches.
Over the years, we’ve lost about a dozen of the plastic plugs. The light inside now shines directly out through several holes.
It never was particularly pretty, I suppose. But it’s special. Because it was given to me with love.
It came from Lorraine Wicklow almost 40 years ago. The next summer, Lorraine died of a massive brain hemorrhage.
As far as I know, she had no family, no relatives. Perhaps I was her family. She used to drop in at my office, back in the days when I worked at the United Church’s national offices in Toronto. She always arrived at the very end of the day, just as I was loading up my briefcase to go home.
Categories: Soft Edges
Tags: Christmas tree
Here we are, into the first week in December, the first week of what the Christian Church has traditionally termed the beginning of a new year.
In the northern hemisphere, we have three different “years.” The calendar year starts January 1. The school year starts in September. And the Christian year starts with the four Sundays before Christmas -- collectively called Advent. The first Sunday is usually about Hope.
Of course, it’s about hope for the coming of a Saviour, a Messiah, a holy person who will show the world how to live.
But is that really hope, 20 centuries later? We already know that child was born, and grew up, and set us an example….
Tags: hope, leukaemia, miracle, extinction
This coming Friday, December 6, marks the 30th anniversary of the deadliest mass murder in Canadian history. That is, if you don’t count attacks on indigenous peoples. They were, after all, just Indians.
Marc Lepine would probably say the same about his rampage at L´Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal. They were, after all, just women. Feminists, studying engineering so that they could steal men’s jobs.
Fourteen women died. Fourteen more victims -- ten women and four men -- were injured by his bullets. The 15thdeath was Lepine, when he shot himself.
And there’s no question about his intentions. He left a three-page suicide note, plus letters to two friends, explaining his hostility towards women in general, towards women who wanted to be engineers in particular.
I won’t attempt to analyze his motives. I do want to trace his actions, and some people’s responses.
Categories: Sharp Edges
Tags: mass murder, heroes, Montreal, L'Ecole Polytechnique
Growing older exposes me to new experiences, often unexpected experiences, that make me wonder what I’ve actually been paying attention to, all these years.
Hearing, for example.
As a journalist for most of my life, I’ve needed to hear exactly what people were saying. When quoting people in the public eye, it’s not good enough to print what I think they might have said.
There’s a huge difference between, say, “prosecution” and “prostitution.”
But as I have aged, my hearing has declined. So I wear hearing aids.
When I remember them, that is. I didn’t remember them for a recent gathering. I tried to catch, and translate into comprehension, various people’s comments. But I found the extra effort tiring.
So I tried listening a different way. To the sounds, the tones, the rhythms of speech around the room.
It was like listening to music.
Tags: hearing, music, deafness
We had some unexpected immigrants drop in at our house recently. A couple, I assume; they’re always together. And they literally dropped in -- out of the sky, onto our bird feeder.
Roger Tory Peterson’s Field Guide to Western Birds defines them as ringed turtle-doves. The description is clear and precise -- they could be nothing else.
Pigeons have been around for a long time. It was a pigeon that Noah released from his ark, to see if there were green shoots growing anywhere. And a pigeon that settled on Jesus as he came up out of the Jordan River after his baptism.
This particular species was probably imported from southern Africa or Asia as household pets. Peterson calls them “a domestic-bred variant of the African turtle-dove…seen very locally in city parks in Los Angeles, rarely elsewhere.”
Which raises some uncomfortable questions.
Did someone move Los Angeles?
Tags: Bible, immigrants, turtle-doves, Roger Tory Peterson
So Don Cherry got fired. About time. The man has been his own fireworks factory for 38 years. Then he lit one incendiary match too many.
He failed to realize that once you become public property, you lose the privileges of individuality. You can no longer claim the liberty to speak for yourself.
Like everyone else, Don Cherry is entitled to express his own opinions -- within his own circle. But Coach’s Corner on Hockey Night in Canada is probably the most public pulpit in the country.
Cherry has been a fixture on Hockey Night in Canada for 38 years. Initially, having been fired as coach of the Boston Bruins, he limited his commentary to hockey tactics.
But he soon used Coach’s Corner as a soapbox to sound off about social issues.
Tags: Don Cherry, freedom of speech, Hockey Night in Canada
The TV news was mumbling away in the background, when a name surfaced — Tim Berners-Lee.
Several decades ago, Berners-Lee was idolized. While a scientist with the CERN large hadron collider in Switzerland, he developed a system that enabled computers to talk to each other.
Officially it was called “hypertext transfer protocol” -- the “http” in internet addresses. More commonly, it’s called the Web, short for World Wide Web – the “www” in internet addresses.
The Web has not only changed communication, it has given theology a valuable new metaphor. Yes, theology, although I suspect that was the last thing on Sir Tim’s mind.
Tags: Berners-Lee, Internet, Web, metaphors
You’re in your car, let’s say. You pull up to the intersection. You stop. You look both ways. The road seems clear. You pull ahead and --
Ka-wham! An enormous force smashes into you. You’re spun around, tossed like a rag doll in a Rottweiler’s jaws. You look up at the radiator of the logging truck that’s crushing your car, and you, into a cube of crumpled metal. Just before a black wave of pain and shock washes over your senses, you ask yourself: “Why didn’t I see that coming?”
A car crash serves as a metaphor for other shocks.
The firm where you’ve worked loyally for 35 years tells you to clear out your desk. Your spouse hands you a package of divorce papers. Your doctor looks at the test results, sucks her teeth, and says, “It’s cancer. Stage IV already…”
At times like these, your first reaction is often, “Why didn’t I see it coming?” How could I miss the warning signs? How did I kid myself that even if I saw the signs, they wouldn’t affect me?
Thirty years from now, I imagine a lot of people will look back at the early decades of this millennium and ask themselves those same questions.
Tags: climate change, BioScience, warnings
In one section of Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert’s best seller from ten years ago, she describes being taught Balinese meditation. She had just spent four months in India learning -- sometimes painfully -- Yoga meditation. Physical postures that had to be learned, and held, until her joints begged for mercy. Endless Sanskrit texts that had to be memorized and repeated, endlessly.
But her guru in Bali simply said, “Smile.”
At first, it seemed far too simple. Yet, as she thought about it, his advice made sense to her. It was the Balinese attitude, she thought. Smile. Always smile. Always face the world cheerfully.
All great truths seems to have a core of simplicity; all simple statements contain a grain of truth. Not necessarily the whole truth. But a grain of truth, somewhere.
The underlying truth to her guru’s instruction was that you receive whatever you are tuned to.
Tags: tuning, radios, frequency
The days have gone, thank God, when we simply couldn’t talk about mental illness. When families had a dotty aunt whom they hid in a suite in the back of the ancestral home. When the errant son who got into trouble was written off, banished, never mentioned again.
It wasn’t that long ago, though, when anybody with a disability was shipped off to a separate school for the blind or the deaf. When mental illness wasn’t even considered a disability -- it was a disgrace that reflected badly upon the family.
It’s not that way anymore. But yes it still is.
When someone breaks a bone, gets an infected tooth, or has surgery to remove an appendix, we don’t think any less of that person for their “illness.” But a diagnosis of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or autism instantly diminishes that person’s value.
Tags: mental illness, TGA, amnesia