I don’t often say kind words about the modern mass media. Unfortunately, as dollars get tighter, publishers can no longer afford to have a writer spend days, weeks, even months, researching the nooks and crannies of a complex story.
But this week is an exception. This week three stories renewed my faith in the written word.
The first came from Maclean’sonline. (I don’t know if it will appear in the print version.) Shannon Gormley wrote about the cave rescue in Thailand, last July. It seems so long ago now, doesn’t it?
But instead of a dry recounting of wet facts, Gormley searched the personalities involved, got inside their emotions, enabled us to feel their fear in the absolute blackness deep inside that mountain.
The small group of strangers, charged with an impossible task, to bring a dozen children and one adult, none of whom know how to dive or even swim, through three kilometres of flooded cave in zero visibility and rushing currents.
Dr. Harry, charged with a task no doctor had ever done before, sedating the 12 trapped boys and their coach just enough that they could be dragged through the murky water to safety without struggling. Or dying. Whose own father died while Harry was underground.
Jim Warny, added to the team too late for the lesson on how to administer a second dose of anesthetic if the rescue took a little too long and the sedated patient started to struggle, having to tranquilize his care package not once but twice when the supposedly comatose victim grabbed Jim’s air pipe in the bottom of a flooded channel as Jim felt his way along the invisible lifeline until he could pass his care package along the rescue team near the entrance, discovering only after he got to safety that he had been dragging not a small boy but the boys’ full grown coach.
You cannot read this story (https://www.macleans.ca/thai-cave-rescue-heroes/) without getting emotionally involved.
The second story, in the on-line newspaper, The Tyee,told of a father and daughter trapped on Saturna Island by the great windstorm last December (https://thetyee.ca/Culture/2019/01/28/Refuge-With-Dad/?utm_source=weekly&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=280119).
The father deliberately built his house far from the ferry terminal, where he could look out at the waves battering themselves into flying spray on the rocks below. But when the winds rose, when salt foam dripped down his windows, when the power failed, when the whole house trembled, father and daughter tried to escape to the ferry terminal.
They couldn’t. Trees fell around them. Before them. Behind them. They couldn’t get to safety; they couldn’t get back.
Then the islanders showed up. With chainsaws.
Sofia Osborne tells the story without any poor-me histrionics. Without moralizing. But the story packs an emotional punch as strong as that December gale.
And few stories could pack the emotional punch of the impact statements made by the families and friends of the Humboldt Broncos victims, last summer.
Russell Herold hasn’t been able to bury his son’s ashes yet. Evenings, he sits with his son’s urn in his lap, talking to him, “like I did when he was a baby.”
Chris Joseph removed his son’s socks at the funeral home. He carried them in his pants pocket ever since. He held them for the driver of the semi-trailer, Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, to see. “I can’t even smell him anymore,” he lamented.
Yes, there was bitterness. Andrea Joseph called Sidhu a monster. “I despise you for taking my baby away,” she sobbed. “You don’t deserve my forgiveness.”
Others struggled to forgive. Forgiveness is never easy. It’s not just wiping the slate clear, banishing the pain, declaring closure.
“I want to tell you that I forgive you,” Christina Haugan, wife of team coach Darcy Haugan, told Sidhu. “I have been forgiven when I didn’t deserve it, so I will do the same.”
And Marilyn Cross, mother of the team’s assistant coach, spoke directly to Sidhu. “I’m not sure I’m ready to forgive,” she said. “But when I look at you, I see a young man not much older than our son Mark.
“I grieve for the guilt you must carry for the rest of your life. I grieve for the loss your family will experience. I grieve for the loss of your freedom and future.
“I don’t hate you. I hope you make every effort to do good, wherever you go, to make the world a better place, just like our son Mark did.”
Sidhu had been sitting silently. That was the moment he began to cry.
So did I.
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Warm responses to last week’s column about the culture of entitlement among senior officials at the B.C. Legislature. Ralph Milton told me that “a lady came up to me after church to say she was going to make a bunch of copies of your column and send it to all her friends. ‘So true. So true,’ she said as she walked away.”
Cliff Boldt has had personal experience as an elected official. He asked, “My first reaction to the Plecas disclosures -- where was the political oversight over the years? Who was minding the store?
“I hope [the provincial auditor] makes some good recommendations for change. More important, I hope the Legislative Management Committee and those they represent have the courage to make some cultural changes.”
James Russell had a similar reaction: “The fish rots from the head down. Both these guys were there for a long time under a B.C. Liberal (i.e., right-wing conservative) government. Under that government’s watch, we are now discovering, billions of dollars in illegal gains (especially drugs) were laundered through provincial casinos and real estate deals. An investigation of the finances of the B.C. Liberal party, its parliamentary leadership when in government, and its main functionaries would seem to be a next order of business. The B.C. marijuana industry has generated illegal revenues in the billions for decades. How was that possible without buying off governments, cops and judges? There must have been lots of money floating around for the taking. I expect that’s where the example was set that was followed by the legislative officers.
Bob Rollwagen also pointed a finger at the elected members: “This is a simple loss of management controls. There are items in your list that should lead to legal charges. People like these two give the vast majority of public servants a bad rap.
“As for entitlement, I have noticed it takes longer to walk through the premium airline classes that are getting bigger every time I walk onto a plane. Many look like business travellers. When I was in business, economy was standard, even for the boss. The food bank lines are getting longer also. I wonder what the correlation is here.
Isabel Gibson offered a business perspective: “My only experience with per diem expenses is in business, but we were usually expected to claim ‘reasonable and actual’ expenses. The company's founder and CEO told people that, when away on business, they should eat the way they did at home. If you'd usually have a glass of red wine with your supper of spaghetti in your own home, then go ahead and order a glass of wine with your pasta at the Italian cafe down the street from the hotel. But don't go to the most expensive restaurant in town and order a bottle of their finest.
“When per diems applied (as a convenience for the company), the expectation was that we should subtract any meals received for free (as when someone hosted us), from our daily claim.
“Life is better with a sense of gratitude, instead of entitlement.”
A woman who preferred to remain anonymous wrote, “Working in a hotel, I see this manipulation of the per diem allowance all the time. It’s not unusual for us to receive a request to reword charges on an invoice so that it can be included in someone’s per diem. I think the worst example was one time when the Department of Correction Services asked us to rename their beverage (alcohol) consumption as ‘room rental’ so they could hide the considerable amount they drank during a working dinner. I had to explain to the organizer that this constituted fraud, and that I couldn’t in good conscience be a party to this.”
Tom Watson: “It's the kind of thing that makes people suspicious of all those who work in a government capacity -- either elected or appointed. To suspect everybody is a feeling I don't like but it seems there are just enough bad apple examples to taint the whole barrel. My question is: What would it take to change the culture?”
Keith Simmonds used to work in the legislature: “I’d say the culture is all about entitlement.
“The main job of MLAs is to get re-elected. I suppose it makes sense in a democratic system. Keep your actions close to the pulse of the electorate, or convince them you are acting in their best interest and you can retain the power needed to carry out those actions.
“The problem evident in this case and in others involving political people, revolves around the one at the centre of that purpose. If it’s all about you, your aims, desires, and wants, you can convince yourself that serving you is the best way to serve others. A trip to a far-off place to review a request for government help finds itself conveniently combined with a thousand-dollar-a-plate fundraising dinner in the same town. If they want you to act on their requests, surely they’ll understand and wink at the combination of events. After all, our Prime Minister’s office encouraged Senators to do just that, not so long ago…
“I’m saddened to find that this culture has found its way into the upper echelons of legislature staff. Other stories say as many as 20 ordinary staffers lost their jobs after calling attention to [this abuse of privilege]. We are fortunate to have a speaker who is not a member of the governing party. Who knows what else waits to be unearthed?”
The matter of seat belts on school buses continues to be on the news, and in your letters. John Shaffer wrote, “My brother was thrown clear in a crash without seat belts at the age of 50. He was a passenger. He died. Just supporting your point.
“I have never understood the ‘real’ reason for not providing seat belts on school buses. It obviously adds to the cost, but who is deciding to pinch pennies in this manner? You have heard of crash-test dummies. How about legislative dummies?”
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Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on Youtube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8
Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. More details at wwwDOTsinghallelujahDOTca
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. <http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca>
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom
Alva Wood’s satiric stories about incompetent bureaucrats and prejudiced attitudes in a small town -- not particularly religious, but fun; alvawoodATgmailDOTcom to get onto her mailing list.
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom or twatsonATsentexDOTnet