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

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Relying on external authority

Author: Jim Taylor

A friend gave me a little book to pass on to our local museum. But because Covid-19 closed the museum for the last couple of months, I’ve kept the book on my bedside table for occasional edification.  

            It’s called “Rules for the Conduct of Life” -- a large topic. Closer inspection reveals a less lofty goal. It was intended as an ethical guide for apprentices seeking to join the Freemen of the City of London.  

            The text contains 36 rules.  I found it interesting that only four of the 36 rules were considered self-evident, capable of standing on their own. 

            All the rest include at least one text from the Bible. Sometimes two, or three. As if they needed an external authority to validate their wisdom. 

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Why police forces can’t help being racist

Author: Jim Taylor

Following the death of George Floyd, killed by  cop Derek Chauvin, which provoked days of protests and nights of rioting and looting, governor Tim Walz has launched an inquiry into whether the Minneapolis police force has “systemic racism that is generations deep.” 

            Of course it does. 

            Stop! Before you fire off flaming letters telling me that I’ve maligned the good people who maintain law and order in our communities, read on.

            This is not about individuals. 

            Individuals may disavow racism. But the system they belong to can’t help being racist, because it defends the rights and privileges of a class that is fundamentally racist. 

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Goodnight, sweetheart, goodnight...

Author: Jim Taylor

The dogwood tree stood as a pillar of creamy white blossom. The hawthorn tree celebrated with a joyful chorus of deep pink flowers. Azaleas flamed fluorescent -- white, orange, red, violet, yellow. Purple allium heads tried to look like computer visualizations of a coronavirus. The rhododendrons toasted the morning in deep claret and white.

            Lilacs, shaded from Ming to Wedgewood, ensured that this was not a fragrance-free zone.

            Tiny yellow, white, and blue flowers cascaded down the rock garden. A septet of humming birds danced around their feeders. A great blue heron rose lazily from the lake below, trailing his legs behind him.

            And there was evening and there was morning, in the four billionth year, and God saw that it was good.

            Joan would have loved it. She would have rejoiced in her garden. I could not imagine how she could willingly leave it.


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Pinching pennies kills seniors

Author: Jim Taylor

As I write this column, the COVID-19 death toll in Canada stands at 6873. Plus one potential death, that no one talks about.

            COVID-19 may finally have shaken the blind belief that private enterprise can do any job more efficiently than public.

            When death rates in long-term care facilities soared, the governments of Ontario and Quebec called in the military to help out.

            Some military members of those Augmented Civilian Care tears wrote a report on the care deficiencies they observed. Which they passed to their superior officers. Who passed it to the provincial governments. Who made them public.

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Doing something worthwhile

Author: Jim Taylor

My shovel sank into the soil the full depth of the blade,  effortlessly, liker slicing butter. I turned the shovel load over.  The soil was rich, black, moist. And loaded with fat wriggling worms.

            Some robins thought I had called them for dinner. They hopped happily over the lumps of earth only a few feet away from my own feet. 

            What a difference 27 years makes. When we first moved onto this property, the land was a horse pasture. Back then, the earth beneath the sod consisted mostly of river-tumbled rock and gravel. In some earlier era, this bench had been the mouth of a rushing mountain stream dumping glacial debris into a lake much larger and deeper than today’s. It left a legacy of stones and sand.

            The remains of the streambed still lie inches  below our lawn. But this garden plot is different, thanks to 27 years of  relentless composting. 

            If I’ve achieved nothing else in my life, I’ve created rich black soil that didn’t exist before. 

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COVID-19 is forcing our hands

Author: Jim Taylor

It’s hard to keep up with the rate of change. The other day, a news report announced that Army and Navy stores were closing. 

            I remember Army and Navy as the place to go to get stuff cheap. The late Sam Cohen founded Army and Navy in Vancouver 101 years ago, as a war surplus outlet. The Great War was over. He could get goods at going-out-of-business prices; hence the Army and Navy title. 

             The same week, news stories said the Reitman’s clothing chain was filing for bankruptcy. Even the survival of the venerable Hudson’s Bay Company was in doubt. 

            HBC is almost synonymous with Canada itself. The first Canadian limited-liability corporation, maybe the world’s first. Founded in 1670, before Canada was even a country. Opened the west to English trade. Made the world’s warmest blankets.

            I can no more imagine Canada happening without the HBC than without the CPR.

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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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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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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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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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