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

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26

Mar

2020

Why we gather to grieve

Author: Jim Taylor

           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.


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15

Mar

2020

Joan's Death

Author: Jim Taylor

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. 


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14

Mar

2020

In the beginning was pi

Author: Jim Taylor

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. 


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5

Mar

2020

Beyond the limits of personal experience

Author: Jim Taylor

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. 


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28

Feb

2020

Wisdom from the mountains

Author: Jim Taylor

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. 


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22

Feb

2020

Black history is more than words

Author: Jim Taylor

My granddaughter is black – adopted, from Ethiopia. She lives in a mostly white community and school system. 

            Her school, I gather, has largely ignored February as Black History Month. 

            Granted, Black History would not teach her much about Ethiopia. Or even about Africa. Black History, from what I’ve seen, deals mainly with American slavery. 

            Slavery is not limited to American experience, of course. For centuries, all over the world,  slaves were property. The mighty could measure their wealth by the number of slaves. 

            Until recently, the stories of American slavery were not transcribed  into words. They were handed down orally. Just as Indigenous stories were. Just as biblical stories were.


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15

Feb

2020

My best New Year’s Resolution ever

Author: Jim Taylor

Back in January, I made a New Year’s Resolution, but I haven’t written about it, just in case it turned out to be like so many other resolutions that last only until someone puts chocolates on the table.

            Fortunately, my resolution wasn’t about chocolates. It was about superlatives.

            To put all of this in a grammatical context, we have, generally speaking, three levels of comparison -- good, better, and best.

            One: this is good. No comparison involved. 

            Two: the comparative -- this is better. 

            Three, the superlative: this is best. Or worst, in some cases. Ideally, again, of a number of known choices. The highest score among a specific group of competitors. The fastest time in a particular high school’s track meet. The lowest temperature this winter.

            But that’s not Donald Trump’s style. He chronically uses what I think of as absolute superlatives. Asserting, for example, that he was “the greatest president ever.” Or that something was the “worst trade deal ever made.” Or that Islamic terrorism is “the greatest threat the U.S. has ever faced.”


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6

Feb

2020

The rise of the un-religious

Author: Jim Taylor

Bad news for religious institutions – churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, and gurdwaras – the agnostics are winning. 

            The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, a conservative Christian organization, recently completed a poll of Canadians over the age of 18. In summary, they found that “half of Canadians are either agnostic, atheist or unreligious. And only a tenth attend religious services weekly.”

            Like all polls, it’s a sampling of opinions and experiences. It put its questions to 5,000 Canadians, regardless of their brand of religion. So it’s not just about evangelicals. 

             The single biggest finding is that 50% of Canadians no longer claim any religious affiliation. They consider themselves agnostics, atheists, or “spiritual but not religious” (abbreviated to AASN).

            Those who still consider themselves Christian – Catholic, Protestant, Pentecostal, whatever – make up only 43% of the Canadian population.


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30

Jan

2020

Questions of life and death

Author: Jim Taylor

’m not sure what I believe about life after death. I’m quite sure that I don’t believe in life before life.

            When I was about ten, my mother told me that my father had proposed to another woman, before he met my mother.

            He had finished his Master’s degree. He had signed up to go to India as a missionary with  the United Church of Canada. He invited this other woman to go with him.

            She said no.

            By a fortunate coincidence for me, my mother went to India about the same time, as a Presbyterian missionary from Northern Ireland. My parents met at language school. Six years later they had me.

            Even at the age of ten, it occurred to me that if that other woman had said “Yes,” I wouldn’t  be who I was. I would be someone else. Maybe even –horrors – a girl!


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23

Jan

2020

Not worth worrying about

Author: Jim Taylor

Flakes of winter snow sift down outside my window as I write these words. Millions of them. Billions of them. Burying the bird feeder. Burying my driveway. 

            I go out to shovel. Each snowflake weighs next to nothing. It’s amazing how much a shovelful of next-to-nothing can weigh. 

            No two of those snowflakes are identical, I’ve been told. 

            Maybe it’s true. Maybe it isn’t. The only way to prove it, either way, would be to examine every snowflake that has ever fallen. 

             But if you lived in Australia these days, who cares? When summer temperatures soar above 50 degrees Celsius, when fires create their own weather systems, a snowflake wouldn’t have, umm, a snowflake’s chance in hell of surviving long enough to  be examined. 

            So many of the things that we humans argue about, divide ourselves about, even go to war about, are what a friend calls “head stuff.” Interesting, but irrelevant. 


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Categories: Soft Edges

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