Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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21

May

2020

The value of handwritten notes

Author: Jim Taylor

           I’m sorry that cursive handwriting is disappearing. Because there’s a huge difference between a handwritten note and a printed text, whether on paper or on screen. 

            In the two months since my wife Joan died, daughter Sharon and I have received 60 or so emails of condolence. And several dozen phone calls. But the cards have made the most impression. They were all handwritten. Forty-seven of them.

            The printed words on the cards offered saccharine platitudes. But the notes and letters described memorable incidents, long ago or more recent. They told of the writers’ own sense of loss. They recognized of the double-whammy of grief and mandatory isolation. 

            In an age when “Hey, Siri!” can send off an instant assembly-line platitude, those writers recognized that there was something more personal, more meaningful, in taking the effort to write by hand rather than in just getting the job done the easiest way. 


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18

May

2020

A “get out of hospital free” card

Author: Jim Taylor

A battered yellow booklet called “International Certificates of Vaccinations” tells me that I have been vaccinated against smallpox, cholera, yellow fever, typhoid, paratyphoid (A and B), polio, typhoid, pneumonia, hepatitis A, tetanus, typhus, mumps, and both kinds of measles.

            Every one of those used to cause epidemics.

            The only difference between an epidemic and what’s now called a pandemic is that a pandemic also affects people you don’t know on the other side of the world. Locally, the effects of epidemic and pandemic are identical. People get sick. Some die.

            Because of my vaccinations, I needn’t fear any of those diseases. But an 80-year-old woman wrote to Dr. Keith Roach, author of a syndicated newspaper column, “I will never willingly get a vaccination for anything." 


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16

May

2020

Beauty: just passing through

Author: Jim Taylor

A goldfinch landed on my windowsill. According to Peterson’s Guide, a male American Goldfinch, with brilliant gold and black feathers.

            Goldfinches tend to come every year around this time, as they migrate north to whatever address they use for their summer home. But I’ve never had one land on my windowsill before.

            The tiny bird perched there, as proud and erect as an Emperor Penguin, staring in at me.

            And then he opened his little beak and pecked on the glass. As if he wanted to come in.

            In our church, we usually open a worship service by sharing “God-moments” -- moments when, in some way, we feel closely connected to whatever we call “God.”  That visit from a goldfinch was definitely a God-moment for me.


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8

May

2020

Stay home, keep calm, knit comfort

Author: Jim Taylor

During my wife’s last calendar year of life, she knitted a prayer shawl a month. 

            You may not be familiar with prayer shawls. Some are square; some triangular. Joan’s tended to be about five feet long and two feet wide, knitted with the warmest and softest wool she could buy. (The wool shop was always glad to see her!)

            In the days when we could still gather for worship services, our congregation periodically held a blessing of prayer shawls. Every person either laid a hand directly on a shawl, or on someone connected to a shawl.

            People have different understandings  of the efficacy of prayer. 

            Regardless, I have no doubt that those shawls carried with them a sense of warmth and comfort to people who needed both. 


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3

May

2020

Living through liminal times

Author: Jim Taylor

A new word crept into the language while I wasn’t watching – “liminal”. None of my dictionaries include it. And they were only published 20 years ago. 

            Not “limn,” which means to paint or portray. 

            “Liminal” derives from Latin “limen” meaning the threshold of a doorway. It marks the division between inside and outside, between warm and cold, between calm and stormy. 

            It is the moment of transition, when one state of being transforms into another. 

            A liminal moment is easy to identify if it’s a doorway. It’s more difficult with geography, for example. Exactly where would you say the mountains end and the prairie begins? Which do the foothills belong to?

            Or with light. At what point, as light fades, does day become night?


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Categories: Sharp Edges

Tags: Rohr, COVID-19, Liminal

30

Apr

2020

How not to make friends and influence people

Author: Jim Taylor

After a month of trying to trace my late wife’s account numbers, policies, investments, and benefits, I can say one thing with certainty – I hate automated voice menus!

            There are times when I think I would rather forfeit any moneys owing than deal with another supposedly helpful telephone menu.

            At some point, the synthetic voice will list a series of options, usually preceded by a caution: “Please listen carefully, as these options have been changed recently.”

            None of the options deals with my needs. I press the number for the most likely option.

            I wait. I get an endless loop of music, periodically interrupted by assurances that the company considers my call very important. 

            Half an hour later, the next available representative is still not available. 

            Corporate voice mail systems are about as inscrutable as the Sphinx.


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26

Apr

2020

Oil’s worth goes worthless

Author: Jim Taylor

The world changed this last week – did you notice? The world’s most valuable commodity was momentarily worthless.

            No, I don’t mean gold. Gold has been valued for a very long time, mostly because it doesn’t tarnish. But the world could get along reasonably well without gold. Or platinum. Or even diamonds.

            I’m referring to oil.

            On one crucial day, for the first time ever, West Texas crude, the gold standard for oil, dropped to minus-$37 U.S. a barrel.


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24

Apr

2020

Entering a strange new land

Author: Jim Taylor

I would not want to be a refugee. Pictures of them suggest they’re in shock, traumatized by the life they have chosen to leave behind. Civil wars. Poverty. Famine. Religious repression. Militias with licence to kill. 

            Refugees have hope, of course – they hope for freedom from poverty, from oppression, from persecution. 

            But they have left so much behind. So much that was dear to them. Businesses that they sank their heart and soul into, with a clientele built over years, maybe even generations. Extended families -- aunts and uncles, parents and grandparents, nieces and nephews, sometimes their own children. Languages and customs familiar since infancy. 

            All given up for a new life they don’t know yet, they can’t know yet. 


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19

Apr

2020

Three myths Covid-19 has killed

Author: Jim Taylor

I am soooooooo sick of Covid-19. Let me correct any misimpression – I am not sick WITH Covid-19. I don’t have chills, fever, or cough. I don’t have difficulty breathing. And I’m not in intensive care.

            I am sick OF Covid-19 the same way I’m sick of Donald Trump. And Brexit. And the way I used to be sick of the Democratic primaries in the U.S. Now, Bernie Sanders can throw in the towel and earn only a two-inch space on an inside page. 

            Surely something else is going on in the world other than Covid-19?

            Has Norway slid into the North Sea? Has Luxembourg declared war on Botswana? Has the Taliban professed Franklin Graham as their Lord and Saviour?  

            In the current pandemic of pandemic news coverage, how would anyone know? 

            The media’s obsession with Covid-19 makes me wonder what we might be overlooking. I suggest that three pervasive myths have had a stake driven through their hearts, 

 

           


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17

Apr

2020

Poetry: the bare essentials

Author: Jim Taylor

This is National Poetry Month. Officially recognized since 1998.

            Does anyone care? A friend says he does doesn’t get poetry. Never has, not since his high school teacher tried to explain it to him. 

            I blame the teacher. You can’t explain poetry. Either you get it or you don’t. Either those images leap off the page and dance a polka in your head, or they don’t. 

            Explaining poetry is like explaining a joke -- if you have to do it, don’t bother. 


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Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: Poetry, metaphor

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