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

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19

Aug

2018

Inside a body dying of ALS

Author: Jim Taylor

I want you to read this book. I hope you find it as depressing and painful as I did.

            The book is Every Note Played, by Lisa Genova. You may have read some of Genova’s previous books, particularly Still Alice,which leads you through the life of a woman as she  chronicles her decline into dementia.

            This book chronicles a similar decline, but into ALS -- Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, often called Lou Gehrig’s Disease, or “what Stephen Hawking had.”

            But where Still Alice led readers through the gradual loss of a university professor’s memory and reasoning, it stopped before Alzheimer’s Disease ended her life. It was sad, but not shattering.

            Every Note Played pulls no such punches. It takes you through to the end, and beyond.


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15

Aug

2018

Conversations that don't need to end

Author: Jim Taylor

In long-term relationships, the past always remains relevant. 

            A group of men were talking about death. (At our age, every conversation gets around to death, sooner or later.) Ralph Milton glanced at me, and said, “Bob Hatfield.” And I knew what he meant. 

            More than ten years ago, Ralph and I drove to Cochrane, Alberta, for a last visit to our friend Bob Hatfield, dying of leukemia. Bob was emaciated, skin and bones. But he was not afraid. We spoke. We held hands. We shared a prayer, for him and for each other. 

            Bob quoted Vera Lynn: “We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when...” His voice trailed off.

            I don’t know what Bob believed about life after death. As a medical doctor, he had seen death often enough to have no romantic delusions about winged cherubs hovering above an abandoned  body. 

            But he believed that conversations did not have to end. He believed that our conversation would carry on, even without him,. 

Bob died the next day. 

            And Bob but he was right. Our conversation with him still continues. 


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12

Aug

2018

Saudi dust-up defines our core values

Author: Jim Taylor

We Canadians live in such a comfortable cocoon. Because we have a government and social culture that is, for the most part, rational and compassionate, we look askance at the political infighting and partisan loyalties that afflict our neighbour to the south. 

            We find it hard to believe that 300-million presumably right-minded people – those who qualify to sit on a jury – allow themselves to be governed by a man who doesn’t seem to know the truth from one hour to the next, and who takes umbrage at the least of slights. 

            “Umbrage” –to take offence, to react strongly. It implies flying off the handle at minor slights. 

            But recent events suggest we Canadians have tunnel vision. Obsessed with President Tweet, we have ignored an even more explosive personality on the international stage: Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia.


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8

Aug

2018

Long before the Bible

Author: Jim Taylor

            You’ve probably seen pictures of cuneiform writing – little wedge-shaped marks pressed into clay tablets. They go back to the Mesopotamian cultures of the Tigris-Euphrates valley, many millennia ago. 

            In school, I was told, cuneiform was a primitive form of accounting. Lacking pen and paper – let alone computers and spreadsheets – the ancient tribes of what is now called Iraq used soft clay tablets to record the number of sheep or bags of wheat someone had bought or sold. It was just a numbering system, I understood.

            Of course, I didn’t bother thinking that those ancient traders also needed symbols for sheep and wheat they were trading. 

            Most of those clay tablets eventually returned to the mud from whence they came. But a few were baked, to preserve them longer. And some got baked, unintentionally, when marauding tribes burned houses and granaries. 


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5

Aug

2018

Changing names doesn’t change attitudes

Author: Jim Taylor

Stanley Park in Vancouver may soon disappear. No, not because developers want to replace its towering Douglas firs with condo towers – though I’m sure the notion has them salivating like Pavlov’s dogs – but because the park’s name may be changed.

            Not that Lord Stanley himself did anything wrong, other than donating a silver cup to the National Hockey League. He’s simply a representative of his time that saw the original inhabitants of North America as “sauvages,” savages with no rights.

            So the Vancouver Parks Board has started a “colonial audit” to identity the ways in which earlier generations of later arrivals wronged the Indigenous peoples who once occupied the shores of Burrard Inlet.

            All this is part of a movement to rewrite history the way it should have been. And in case there’s any doubt, I’m against it.

            That probably puts me into a group that the Prince George Citizen’seditor Neil Godbout derided as “historically-illiterate, culturally-entitled white people.” So be it.

            What we have is what we have. To deny it is to deny what makes us, us.


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1

Aug

2018

The parables of Dr. Seuss

Author: Jim Taylor

Every Christian church I know reads a text from the Bible, every Sunday. Yes, even the radically and sometimes profanely feminist/LGBT Church of the Apostles in Seattle -- and then rips the Bible’s patriarchy apart.

            But maybe we should be looking at other sources of wisdom. Like Dr. Seuss, for example.

            Theodor Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss, never claimed any divine inspiration for his writing. But The Grinch offers more inspiration about Christmas than many sermons. Horton Hears a Who takes the side of overlooked people. Green Eggs and Ham illustrates conversion, a change of heart.

            Most of Seuss’s books, in fact, are parables. They tell a story, but inside that story is a greater story, and inside that -- if you’re willing to dig for it -- a profound message.


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29

Jul

2018

‘There is no magic bullet’

Author: Jim Taylor

At the end of a press conference, right after the shootings on Toronto’s Danforth Avenue, a reporter tossed a final question at Police Chief Mark Saunders. Saunders was already heading off-camera. I didn’t catch the question, but I’m fairly sure I heard Saunders say, “There is no magic bullet.” 

            And if he didn’t say it, he should have.

            Because although it was a singularly inappropriate cliché – after all, 15 people had just been shot with bullets – it was also exactly the right answer. 

            Because a magic bullet is what everyone wants. 


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25

Jul

2018

How colonizers gain control

Author: Jim Taylor

Some arrived by sea, some by land. Wherever they arrived, they established footholds among the local population. They settled in. They built networks.

            As time passed, they began to impose the values and standards of their culture on the existing population. Eventually, they became the dominant group. Their values, their standards, became the law of the land.

            Like a giant vacuum cleaner, they sucked up other religions, other faiths, and other cultures, and homogenized them in their own image.

            You thought I was describing the European settlement of the Americas, didn’t you?

            Nope. I was talking about the colonization of the Mediterranean basin by the followers of Jesus.


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22

Jul

2018

Mobs don’t distinguish fact from falsehood

Author: Jim Taylor

Fake news didn’t start with Donald Trump. He merely raised it to an unprecedented level. Dare I say to an un-presidented level? And that’s the last time I shall refer to him in today’s column.

               Because on July 19, 1692, 326 years ago this last week, the infamous Salem witch trials in Massachusetts had their first mass execution. They hanged seven women and one man.

               One woman, Bridget Bishop, had been hanged a month earlier.

               Wikipedia lists 110 people executed as witches, mostly in Europe. By the 1600s, the hysteria had started to fade in Europe. But not in the Puritan colonies on this side of the Atlantic.

               Salem had a reputation as a fractious town, divided by local feuds. Town meetings tended to turn into physical fights. Most histories now portray the witchcraft trials as an extension of those feuds.


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21

Jul

2018

The intensity of good intentions

Author: Jim Taylor

At a guess, the little girl would be about eight years old, her first year as a piano student. When she squirmed up onto the piano bench, her red patent leather shoes hung high above the floor. There was no way she could reach the pedals. 

            She poised one finger to hit the first note. 

            She followed that note with a second, and a third. And she stopped. Something wasn’t right. 

            She tried again. One note, another, a third. And stopped again. She didn’t know how to go on. 

            She froze. Afraid to make another mistake. Afraid to risk another try. 

            Utter silence filled the room. No one breathed. The audience – parents, grandparents, siblings, fellow students – leaned forward as one. Wishing her on, willing her unwilling fingers to continue. 

            The intensity was physical. The old cliché says “You could cut it with a knife.” Well, perhaps not that palpable. But there was certainly something there in that room, a presence that filled the space, a spirit that moved in waves to support the little pianist. 


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