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With humour in relatively short supply these days, my own mental energy even shorter, and April Fool’s Day just over, I thought some biblical exegesis might be in order. So here is a reading from Exodus, chapter 16, (Disclosure: adapted from a version published in 2014).
The entire assembly complained about the leadership of Moses and his brother Aaron. They said, “Why did you lead us out of Egypt where McDonald’s was open 24/7, to bring us out to this wilderness where we will surely die of fast food deprivation?”
“Give us this day our daily burgers,” they chanted.
Categories: Soft Edges
Tags: Moses, manna, Exodus, satire
My grocery store has a sign up at its cash registers: “Due to the COVID-19 virus, we no longer accept reusable grocery bags.” Instead, they’ll give away free plastic bags.
Not that long ago, the same store encouraged reusable bags, to cut back on single-use plastic bags made from fossil fuels that ended up in landfill sites. Or swirling around the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
I cite that as a single instance of the way the coronavirus panic is suddenly upsetting -- rightly or wrongly -- many of the notions that we used to take for granted.
Categories: Sharp Edges
Tags: COVID-19, pandemic, distancing, isolation
It all makes me reconsider the purpose of a funeral or memorial service.
It’s not simply an occasion for glowing eulogies.
The popular term “Celebration of Life” seems to me to be both a euphemism and a misnomer. We may indeed celebrate who that person WAS. But we do it because she ISN’T.
We don’t sing the “Hallelujah Chorus” at “celebrations of life.” Or warble “For she’s a jolly good fellow…” We don’t jive in the aisles, pop balloons, or light fireworks.
No. We gather to grieve.
Tags: grief, COVID-19, funerals, memorial services
I'll use this space for an event I don't want to, and can't, ignore.
My wife Joan died Friday evening, March 13. She had wanted to die at home, but on Thursday morning she realized that her illness was getting beyond my ability to look after her. Hiring staff to come in was a possibility, but Joan herself felt that she needed to change her mind and check into a hospice.
We moved her into Hospice House in Kelowna Thursday afternoon. Although she was very tired and very weak, she was able to take part in conversations with her visitors that afternoon.
The next morning she was unconscious, having great difficulty breathing, with no indication that she could respond at all to us or to other visitors. Just before 11:00 she took her last breath and was at peace. If you go now to the full page, you can read her obituary, and the eulogy that Sharon would have given at Joan's memorial service -- which of course cannot happen during this corona virus shutdown of all services.
Tags: eulogy, death, Joan Taylor, obituary
As Scott Gilmore editorialized in Maclean’s, “It’s not the end of the world, it just feels that way.”
Gilmore recalled his childhood days, reading a framed poem on a church wall. He assumed it must be “a piece of ancient wisdom, a psalm from the Old Testament.”
It was neither. It was a prayer written by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, in the 1930s:
“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.”
It’s commonly called the “Serenity Prayer.” Alcoholics Anonymous popularized it. Other self-help programs have picked it up.
Are prayers the answer to today’s chaos?
Tags: prayer, COVID-19, Scott Gilmore, Macleans, Desiderata
This coming Saturday is International Pi Day. No, that’s not a typographic error. Pi, not pie, regardless of flavour. Or maybe pi. Usually represented by π, a Greek letter that looks like a wobbly footstool.
It’s on March 14, because if you write it as 3/14, or better yet as 3.14, you have the first three digits of pi. Correctly, pi is 3.141592 plus an endless series of further decimals, but for most purposes, 3.14 will suffice.
But then, pi can never be precise. Mathematicians have calculated pi to 13.3 trillion decimal digits, and they’re firmly convinced that it will never – no, never – repeat a pattern. Which means that no matter how precisely they define pi, the next digit will be unpredictable.
So pi is at once a constant, and a variable.
And yet the universe could not exist without it.
Tags: mathematics, astronomy, value, pi
The dominant news story of the last few weeks (aside from the American media’s obsession with the Democratic primaries) has been the spread and effects of the new coronavirus, officially dubbed COVID-19.
Medically, it’s a relatively minor illness -- far less fearsome than, say, cancer, heart disease, or obesity. As I write this column, in midweek, COVID-19 has spread to 46 countries, but resulted in only 3,100 deaths worldwide. The whole U.S. has had only 135 cases, with just 11 deaths; Canada, only 35 cases in total, with no deaths at all. (Figures depend on the source and date.)
There are times when our collective reaction feels like a tempest in a teapot.
By comparison, the 2009 H1N1 virus caused 12,500 deaths in the US alone. And that figure is annually surpassed by the ordinary, common, garden-variety flu which will kill about 18,000 people in the U.S. this year...
Tags: corona virus, COVID-19, Spanish flu, mortality rate
She came walking down the lane past my window, tall, straight, shoulders squared, moving with confident strides, the picture of health and confidence.
She couldn’t possibly imagine what it feels like to be unable to straighten her shoulders. Where moving one leg out of bed requires a conscious effort. As does chewing every mouthful of food.
I don’t in any way censure that young woman. She’s kind, personable, empathetic. But we – generally speaking -- cannot imagine what we haven’t experienced, even indirectly.
Even if we experience disability as a result of an injury or illness, we tend to see it as temporary.
Tags: immortality, Souls, experience
This week, I learn that his own creation, L’Arche International, the organization that operates 154 homes for mentally and physically disabled people in 38 countries around the world, released a report that he had had sexual relations with six women.
None of them, I’m relieved to hear, were among the disabled persons served by L’Arche homes.
But all six had Vanier as their spiritual director. Which means they were in an unequal relationship with him. Which he exploited.
The relationships, said the report, were “emotionally abusive and characterised by significant imbalances of power, whereby the alleged victims felt deprived of their free will and so the sexual activity was coerced or took place under coercive conditions.”
The charges are not mere rumours. L’Arche might be expected to defend its founder’s reputation.
Tags: Jean Vanier, L'Arche, sex crimes
How could I resist a book sub-titled, A Tale of Non-Euclidian and Symbolically Authentic Mountaineering Adventures?
I’ve been a fan of mountain climbing ever since my early years in the foothills of India’s Himalayas. Until you’ve done it, it’s hard to imagine the sheer awe of cresting a ridge and seeing a range of 25,000-foot mountains rising across the sky.
But “Non-Euclidian” mountaineering?
It’s because author Rene Daumal’s mountain, Mount Analogue, is imaginary. It gives him the opportunity to use mountaineering wisdom to illuminate ordinary life.
Tags: gods, Mountains, Rene Daumal