Tuesday, 27 October 2015

They also serve

"He missed the point entirely," ranted my mom on the way home from church one Sunday near Remembrance Day. "They weren't just sitting around waiting. They were doing things. Milton himself wasn't just sitting around and waiting. He was writing poetry!"

She was arguing-as only my mother could do- against the thesis proposed by our minister Bert Willis in a sermon based on John Milton's poem "On His Blindness." Milton's poem was written after he became blind. A deeply religious man, Milton wondered what God expected him to do once he was blind. How could he use his talent when he couldn't see?  The Reverend Willis pondered about what we could do when we were faced with forces that made us unable to act. As I recall, he talked about faith and service and the fact that there are many ways to serve God. The Reverend Willis talked about people who stayed behind during the wars and how their particular form of service was to wait. At least that's how I remember it.

Mom and Dad making cotton candy. With their own
machine they bought to fundraise with.
My mother was never one to sit and wait. Or even to sit. She was at times frenetically busy, a compulsive volunteer who was constantly thinking of new projects.  I can't remember her sitting through a TV show without also knitting, sewing, marking papers or talking about the show or something else all together. I don't remember her preparing a meal without stopping to read a magazine article. She was a multi-tasker before  the word was even invented.

So for the minister to suggest that people could somehow "serve" by doing nothing? Ridiculous.

Our culture is based on being busy. Ask people how they are doing, and the reply is rarely about how they feel but how they live. "Busy," they say, "Too busy. Run off my feet."  It's a source of pride. I know this because I say it myself. I hear it from my friends and neighbours and my own children. My daughter tells me she can't sit through a TV show. She needs to be doing something.  And I wonder how good that is for all of us.

Would it help us, to be less busy? Could we learn to stand and wait? I'd love to try. If I could just find the time.

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg'd with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;
"Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?"I fondly ask. 
But Patience to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o'er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait."

Wednesday, 21 October 2015


You know how it is.  Someone you haven't thought about in years pops into your head. You wonder what ever happened to her. Or him.
Confirmation Day

Awhile ago I got to thinking about my old friend G. She and I were pretty close back our school days. Her dad worked for Loveseth's. Her mom was a war bride. She had an older brother and sister and an adorable little sister who spoke with an English accent. We were from good Anglican families and sang in the church choir and got confirmed at the same time.  After school before confirmation class we used to go to the Tastee Freez for a pop. One summer we decided we should make a few bucks and ran a summer camp. Our charges included our own two sisters, the Chmelyk twins and their little sister. I think we made enough money to buy a burger. G and I drifted apart in junior high. She moved to White Rock and I never heard from her again.

A few days ago I somehow got in touch with her over Facebook. She replied with "Is this really you? From DC? Looking forward to catching up with you...wow, really catching up...and where to start?"

Where indeed? How to tell your life story going back over 40 years? What have I done that would interest anyone? What is "my story?" What to put in? What to leave out? I can tell the basic facts in a couple of paragraphs, but is that all there is? So many things happen in a life.  What would matter to her? What matters to me? The highlights matter as much as those low times I'd rather not share with anyone. The wonderful and the horrible experiences that make me who I am.

A couple of years ago I wrote my mom's story for her, illustrated with photos from her life. As a dementia sufferer, she sometimes forgot who she was. My brother told me that almost every day, she poured over that book, sometimes remembering, sometimes thinking she was reading about someone else. Today I wonder-what did she want me to know that I never found out? What would she rather that I never knew?

When my grandmother died, I inherited her wooden trunk full of letters. Every now and then I make a stab at those letters. Hundreds of letters. Newsy letters from my mom to my grandmother when I was born. Homesick letters from my aunt when she went to Chicago with her husband so he could take a course. The letter that told her that my great grandmother had died. Mostly, letters from my grandfather. Letters worrying about money. Personal letters asking why she never wrote back. Letters no one else was meant to read. All part of her story, part of a new narrative no one else in my family knows.

We all have our stories. As a teacher, I think about the stories my students have to tell. Once in awhile, I'm the one they choose to tell it to. 

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Tell Me 'Bout the Good Ole Days

The good ole days! 

Back when times were simpler.

Back when the lines between right and wrong seemed so clear.

Back when people were better.

Back when Canada was a Christian nation and all political and economic decisions were made by men.

Back when Canada was "discovered" by those who ignored that aboriginal people were already here and subsequently denied them a voice in government until 1960.

Our Canada, where women could not vote until 1919.

Our Canada, whose own Supreme Court ruled that women were not, in fact, persons, until 1929 when the British Privy Council said they were.

Our Canada, where Chinese immigrants entering the nation to build the railroad paid millions in "head tax." 

Our Canada, where Japanese immigrants were stripped of their property and sent to live in internment camps.

Well, those good ole days are gone. Generations of Canadians of many backgrounds have worked tirelessly to create a tolerant nation based on individual rights and freedoms. Our country was ranked #1 on the UN Human Development Index from 1993-2000. Unfortunately though, our current government seems to want us to slide backwards into the good ole days when an elite group made decisions for the masses and individual rights and freedoms were limited.

In a recent widely shared Facebook post, originally published as a letter to the editor in the Ottawa Sun, Kanata's Bill MacCallum derided Canadians for wanting change. According to MacCallum Canada is perfect just the way it is.

Sorry, I don't think so. Change is needed.

Uphold Charter Rights

  • Protect my freedom of speech, my privacy and my mobility rights. Repeal Bill C-51. We already have many protections in place to prevent terrorism. Why should my civil liberties be curtailed? 
  • Uphold religious freedoms. Canada is a multicultural nation. Stop promoting the idea of "the other". A Muslim woman has a right to wear a niqab. I don't understand it but if she has made the choice of her own free will, leave it be. And Zero Tolerance for "Barbaric" Cultural Practices? Come on. Why call polygamy, under age and forced marriage and honour killings "cultural practices"? Those acts are already against the law. Now the whole world is calling us xenophobic!
  • Uphold freedom of speech for science. Funding for scientific research has been cut by millions under the Harper government, and federal scientists have been repeatedly silenced when they try to speak about what they have learned if it goes against the message of the ruling party. We need to hear from these dedicated intelligent people who were hired to find things out. And the public deserves to know what they have learned, even if they are ugly truths. Especially if they are ugly truths.

  • Restore democratic rights. My daughter is a researcher in the UK. Under the current law, this is the last election in which she will be allowed to cast a Canadian vote, despite the fact she has not renounced citizenship, pays Canadian taxes, donates to Canadian charities and loves her country. Is she somehow no longer a citizen?

Aboriginal Issues

Harper says the concerns with murdered and missing aboriginal women has been studied to death and all the cases have been solved. But he is missing the point entirely. Why are these women being killed? What conditions lead them to live such high risk lifestyles? 

Youth suicide in aboriginal communities has skyrocketed, with a suicide rate that is 5-6 times higher than the national average. Incarceration rates are 40% higher. While we hear about terrible racism in the U.S., the chart from Maclean's shows aboriginal people in Canada fare worse than African Americans in every way. We have our racial issues here in Canada.

What is our government doing to deal with the fact that by virtually every single indicator, Aboriginal people fare worse than any other identifiable group?

Give us back our place on the world stage

Canada, once renowned on the world stage for its tolerance and peacekeeping, has lost it's way. We currently are ranked at # 8 on the UN Human Development Index. Shameful.

Conservatives reject change by definition. They hearken back to the traditions of the past. We need a sense of our past as individuals and as a nation, otherwise how do we learn and grow? I'm a proud Canadian. I love my country. I am proud of many of the actions of my ancestors and those who worked to build our nation. I also believe mistakes were made and we need to move forward. 

The good ole days might have been simpler. Maybe right and wrong were easier to determine when it was just white men acting in self interest. Now there are so many factors to consider. Science, for example. And the perspectives of the many, with all their different beliefs and values and genders and colours and income levels and job descriptions. 

We need to move forward with respect for the dignity of all human beings towards greater equality and justice. 

We need change.