Life

/Life

Back To Centre

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;” W. B. Yeats

Doesn’t it feel like we’re living this profound line from that famous poem by Yeats, “The Second Coming”? Well, perhaps that’s because the poem was inspired by another pandemic, the Spanish flu (1918-19). The death rate among pregnant women was an alarming 70% in some areas; Yeats’ pregnant wife unfortunately contracted the virus and almost died.

Arianna Huffington, founder of Huffpost and Thrive Global, wrote earlier this month, “We’ve lost touch with the center.” Have you felt that at times? Prior to the March shut-down? Running here, there: working, shopping, attending social functions, catching flights. Always busy, always searching. What are we searching for?

So, while we’re all desperate for social interaction, these past weeks have been a fantastic opportunity to return to centre. And while we may be cross with modern China for their slow and sneaky response to the pandemic, their ancient Taoist tradition of yin-yang offers us a lost piece to life’s puzzle. Throughout life, most of us have enjoyed an abundance of yang – masculine, fast, active, aggressive. What we need is more yin – feminine, slow, passive, yielding. As Lao Tzu, founder of the Tao, said, “thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub; it is the centre hole that makes it useful.”

In her inspiring article “We Are Never Going Back”, Huffington refers to our current situation as a “crucible”. If the word sounds biblical, it is: Proverbs 27:21 The crucible is for silver, and the furnace for gold; but man is refined by his praise. Meaning? The result of great trial by heat leaves precious metals poised to be made into jewellery; the result of great trial by praise leaves a human poised to reveal a precious character. Or . . . not.

We’ve all known men – or women – overly attached to praise and the resulting haughtiness and enlarged ego is not something you’d call precious. Preciously annoying is more like it.

We’re seeing this play out among world leaders in this trial by pandemic:

*UK Prime Minister Johnson’s response is called “arrogant complacency” by Metro News
*Brazilian President Bolsonaro calls the coronavirus “a little flu” and an economic threat
*the US President* sees it as an economic threat as well, while promoting the unproven drug hydroxychloroquine as a cure

While the coronavirus is indeed a ginormous economic problem the world over, putting money over human lives is wrong. And ignoring the advice of experts in epidemiology – as Bolsonaro and the US President* do – is both selfish and reckless.

But the crucible Huffington refers to is this Oxford dictionary meaning: “a situation of severe trial, or in which different elements interact, leading to the creation of something new”.

What is wrong with something new? While man’s “progress” has allowed many the world over to enjoy fulfilling lives of relative luxury, at what cost has this been to other sentient beings and to the planet?

And just look at the glaring societal gaps this pandemic has exposed! In Canada? Eighty-two per cent of Covid-19 deaths have been in long-term care homes. “The Canadian armed forces report found instances of insect infestations, poor hygiene practices, and neglect, among other concerns,” BBC News reports. “Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the document was ‘gut-wrenching’.”

And this is ironic, yes? While well-paid CEOs of large corporations might sacrifice bonuses during these trying economic times, it’s lower-paid workers, like grocery store staff, maintenance people, truck drivers, and so on, who are keeping the economy going while hospital staff are literally keeping people alive, often without proper PPE.

Huffington mentions another ancient source of wisdom, the Hindu epic Mahabharata, which chronicles three kinds of life a person may lead:

*a life of inertia and dullness with no goals and achievement
*a frenetic life full of busyness and desire
*a life of goodness

Dullness sounds pretty, well, dull. And it’s good to be busy, but being busy for the sake of busyness? Not enough. Goodness? That sounds good, huh?

I listened to a great podcast the other day, aptly called “Holding it Together When Things Fall Apart”. Dan Harris interviewed Pema Chodron, an author and meditation teacher who lives in rural Nova Scotia. Chodron talked about a friend who was struggling with some serious financial issues due to the pandemic. He said he was going to spend a week thinking it through and then spend another week meditating on it, getting into his body and just observing. Can you guess which one provided the most relief? Hint: it was so excruciating, he did not make it through a full week of thinking it through.

Getting back to Lao Tzu, he observed that the centre hole (nothing) makes the wheel useful, the space within a clay vessel (nothing) makes it useful, the holes (nothing) cut for windows and doors for a room are useful: “therefore profit comes from what is there; usefulness from what is not there.”

Due to our capitalistic societies, most of us know all about the quest for profit, a positive bottom line. In this halted pandemic time of great nothingness let’s be okay with what is not there, happy in the knowledge that there is great usefulness in stillness. A stronger, kinder centre is being forged.

 

Back To Centre 2020-05-28T15:49:55+00:00

How We Laugh

Ghosts breathe in me through sleeping hours
Clutching clean dry hands
They float me into brightly-lit shops with my children
Reduced, made younger
Frivolously, we search for meaningful cups and sparkly shoes
Pretty dresses with brilliant flowers
Fine cotton dress shirts with pink and grey stripes
Donning the fresh trappings, we venture into other forbidden places
Restaurants and concert halls and crowded after-parties
Where we eat and drink and listen and dance and sing along and tell tall tales
Eyes aglow from the wondrous assault to our senses

And we laugh
Oh how we laugh!
Great rivers of joy recklessly flood our faces
How we laughed!

We laugh still
Can anyone hear?
Sure there has been stoppage, alarm, altered wages and stages
Illness, and death minus the ritual of funeral
Conspiracy, confusion, misinformation
But transformation! So available
beyond haunting apparitions and lurking nostalgia
A better me, a better you
In here, out there

Website photo: My son & I finding things to laugh about.

 

How We Laugh 2020-05-25T15:08:29+00:00

Refuse To Fear

“We will refuse to fear
Never surrender
Never give hate the chance to rule the day
If we all choose to heal
Love is forever
Darkness won’t win
When we refuse to fear.” Charlie A’Court

A beautiful, strong message, yes? It’s from Canada’s East Coast award-winning singer-songwriter Charlie A’Court, who performed Friday in a Virtual Vigil to honour victims of the horrific, entirely-impossible-to-come-to-grips-with mass shooting in Nova Scotia.

If you’re familiar with the play Come From Away, based on Newfoundland’s hosting of the 38 planes diverted to Gander on 9/11, then you’d no doubt describe people from the East Coast as the exact opposite of angry. East Coasters are open and warm, friendly and kind.

I knew this long ago! My father was from New Brunswick and my mother from Nova Scotia, so I got to spend a month each summer as a kid on the East Coast. Life moved at a slower pace there; we had oodles of time to chat with family, neighbours and strangers alike. Most homes sported unlocked doors that didn’t necessarily expect a knock to gain entry. Even as a kid, I noticed the uptightness of Ontario upon my return. I mean, why were we always in such a dang hurry?

Consequently, people from “down home” (as Mom called it) are appalled, struggling to understand how such extreme violence could mar their beautiful province, Canada’s Ocean Playground. When I reached out by text to a cousin who lives in Dartmouth, her shock was palpable. “He succeeded in putting us on the map for all the wrong reasons. This is foreign to us. These things don’t happen here. I’m so confused, upset and angry!”

Things like that don’t happen there. And yet? Now one person’s sick mind has made it so. All of it so hard to fathom: the number of dead, the number of crime scenes, the fires, the sneaky use of an RCMP uniform and car, and then? The added whammy that due to Covid-19 people can’t even hug one another, can’t hold funerals. “Gobsmacked” is a word I heard used to describe the feeling and it is apt.

When senseless acts of violence happen, hate and darkness are tempting. But we mustn’t succumb. As A’Court sings, “Never give hate the chance” and “Darkness won’t win”. Why? Because “Love is forever”. Love is stronger.

One person. One person! How can one person wreak so much fear, cause so much pain and anguish? But it is just one person. Most people love. Most care. We truly have to go with the odds on these things, don’t we? Otherwise, what would be the point?

You watch what is happening in the aftermath of this horror? Giant heartfelt memorials. People sharing memories, sobbing. And on Friday night for the vigil, dignitaries and musicians representing a stricken province did their best to pull the entire country together with loving words and music.

“We will refuse to fear.” We feel fear. We can’t help but feel it, imagining a neighbour walking in then pulling out a gun, imagining finding your brother dead on the side of the road and hiding in the woods for hours listening to gunshots, imagining being pulled over by the RCMP and then instead of a ticket . . .

Fear, for humans – for any living creature – is natural. Fear enables survival; there are threats everywhere. Like the coronavirus lurking with its unique characteristics that epidemiologists the world over are scrambling to identify and understand. Like the sudden economic downturn, job losses, money woes. And like one person with a devil’s trove of anger, guns and disguises.

It is possible to live an entire life in fear. Lord knows, there’s a leader south of the border that’s been stoking those flames in the minds of his followers for 40-some months now. Fear though, is meant as a short burst, to provide the adrenaline needed to escape danger, like that poor fellow who found his brother dead. Fear is not meant to be a lifelong companion.

Fear left unchecked? According to takingcharge.csh.umn.edu, “Fear weakens our immune system and can cause cardiovascular damage, gastrointestinal problems such as ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome, and decreased fertility. It can lead to accelerated ageing and even premature death.”

Refuse it. Love big, hard, and wide. Work on healing. For those grieving loved ones lost in this tragedy, healing will probably feel undoable. And will be so hard, will take a very long time. But humans are unbelievably resilient. And most humans? Especially those from down home? Filled to the brim with goodness.

Website Photo: Be Well/Rainbow my grandkids made for their front window.

 

Refuse To Fear 2020-04-28T14:12:53+00:00

Always Be Grateful

“The sun’s gonna shine, ooh, ooh, it’s true
‘Cause I can always be grateful” Jewel

The sun is gonna shine. Have you noticed? While us humans scramble to figure out how to deal with this pandemic, Mother Nature just, la-di-da-di-dah, continues to tick items off her spring To Do list. A cousin wrote on FB: “You go out for a walk and the air is fresh, birds are singing, flowers are coming up and trees are in bud. You look around and you would never know anything is wrong.”

Except when you look at the man-made stuff: playgrounds wrapped in caution tape, mall parking lots empty, downtown stores boarded up. One of the comments on my cousin’s FB post: “Mother Nature knows how to go on without us humans . . . hopefully that isn’t what she has in mind at this particular time though!”

A most humbling message, huh? We need Earth. Earth does not need us.

Something to keep in mind, if/when we eventually get around to addressing Climate Change. While we may do it for ourselves, and a multitude of unfortunate species we’ve adversely affected along the way, we mustn’t kid ourselves. We’re not doing it for the planet. The planet is estimated to be 4.54 billion years old. Humans? Mere babies at 200,000 years.

We’ve been fruitful and multiplied though: seven times in just the last 200 years, from one billion to over seven billion! You can just imagine Mother Nature thinking from time to time, If only I could get these seven billion monkeys off my back.

Coronavirus has forced us monkeys to halt in place, temporarily, giving Her body and lungs a sweet reprieve. But this reset is due to economic and human distress, right? Inger Andersen, head of the UN Environmental Programme, in an article for news.un.org “has cautioned against viewing this as a boon for the environment”. When we finally get to check out and also leave “Hotel California”? We should take a good long look at how we do things, in a way I’m sure young environmental activist Greta Thunberg would approve of, and in complete opposition to the way some world leaders operate.

Writes Andersen, “And as the engines of growth begin to rev up again, we need to see how prudent management of nature can be part of this ‘different economy’ that must emerge, one where finance and action fuel green jobs, green growth and a different way of life, because the health of people and the health of the planet are one and the same, and both can thrive in equal measure.”

Green. The answer is green, but not money. Creation should be the new currency.

Listening to an interview with Jewel on Sirius XM’s Volume the other day, I was introduced to her website jewelneverbroken.com, an “emotional fitness destination”, where the anxiety-ridden can find tools for anxiety reduction.

Since this is such an anxiety-inducing time, let’s look at Jewel’s way of calming it. With anxiety, fight-or-flight mode, your heart rate speeds up and essentially shuts down your brain. You’re in survival mode. Contraction. The opposite is dilation. Openness. Jewel recommends getting really observant. Curious. Take a good long look at what is going on around you, take in the details. This brings you into a mindful state in which anxiety cannot exist.

Add in a dash of gratefulness? You’re well on your way to feeling better. I recently chatted with my gfs on our weekly get-together – I call it Zoom Gabba-Gabba – and we pointed out all the things we have to be grateful for: friends bringing food, random acts of kindness we see when we venture out, and time to read, workout and be creative.

With my creative time, I’ve been taking art lessons with my sister-in-law on Zoom. One of our recent subjects was the luna moth, so named because it’s nocturnal, but also it has moon-like spots. I personally have never seen a luna moth – some say they’re not so much rare as secretive, while others believe they’re threatened by pesticide use, pollution, and loss of habitat.

They are stunningly beautiful. And they have much to offer us in terms of messaging at this time. According to maynardlifeoutdoors.com, they “live for only about a week, their sole purpose – besides beauty – being to mate before dying”. Ok, we live longer than a week, but in the grand scheme of things? We don’t really live that long. We’ve figured out the mating part; perhaps we’re also here to appreciate beauty?

The luna moth, like any transformative insect, is a harbinger of change. The anticipation of it, active or passive. Again, from maynardlifeoutdoors.com, “Either change your life, or your life will be changed”.

Our lives were changed by this pandemic. Passive. Actively, let’s do what we can to change our lives for the better when it loosens its grip.

Website picture: A gorgeous water colour luna moth as painted by my art teacher Hilary Slater www.hilaryslater.com. I’m not sharing my latest attempt as it resembles a giant squashed puke-coloured manta ray.

 

 

 

 

 

Always Be Grateful 2020-04-16T09:36:44+00:00

RIP John Prine

He’s surely in heaven now, smoking that “cigarette that’s nine miles long”. Legendary singer-songwriter John Prine, died yesterday (April 7) from coronavirus. He gave up smoking after his first bout with cancer in 1997, but he never lost a desire for it, telling Jayson Greene for the pitchfork.com article “Life, Death and John Prine”: “If there is a heaven, and I’m going there, that’s the way I want it. I got to thinking, Where am I gonna have that cigarette? Well, in heaven. There couldn’t be any cancer there, and why would they have ‘No Smoking’ signs in heaven?”

No hit songs. No blockbuster album. Regardless, the man once labelled the “Singing Mailman” by movie critic Roger Ebert (Prine was a mailman in Chicago for five years) was revered in the music industry; his songs were covered by a wide range of artists, including Johnny Cash, Bonnie Raitt and My Morning Jacket.

In Greene’s interview, he shared with Prine a heart-wrenching story of how his song “Everything Is Cool” played a huge part in the life (labour) and death (funeral) of his baby girl. Prine had written the song in response to his divorce and Greene wondered if he was surprised that a divorce song could also be a death song for someone. “Well there’s only two things,” Prine said. “There’s life, and there’s death. So it’s a 50/50 shot.”

Life and death; a 50/50 shot. Perhaps that’s what this pandemic is forcing us all, in our remote togetherness, to come to terms with? On the “Ten Percent Happier” podcast with Dan Harris, his meditation teacher Joseph Goldstein recently pointed out this obvious fact: What causes death? Birth. Hmmm.

I was lucky enough to see John Prine live twice in 2018. He headlined the Ann Arbor Folk Fest the first of the year, then played our town – London, Ontario – at the end of the year. What a gentleman! With his top-notch band, all of them in suits, so classy. He wrote and sang simple relatable songs for everyday people living their lives. Songs that have stood the test of time. There are so very many; it’s hard to decide favourites, but I’ll pick a few so we can be soothed, and moved, by his words:

“When I woke up this morning, things were looking bad
Seems like total silence was the only friend I had” (“Illegal Smile”)

“Well, I sat there at the table and I acted real naïve
For I knew that topless lady had something up her sleeve” (“Spanish Pipedream”)

“Ya know that old trees just grow stronger
And old rivers grow wider every day
Old people just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say, ‘Hello in there, hello’” (“Hello In There”)

Well “There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes,
Jesus Christ died for nothin’ I suppose.
Little pitchers have big ears,
Don’t stop to count the years,
Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios.” (“Sam Stone”)

“And daddy, won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County
Down by the Green River where Paradise lay
Well, I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking
Mister Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away” (“Paradise”)

And “There’s flies in the kitchen, I can hear ‘em there buzzin’
And I ain’t done nothin’ since I woke up today
How the hell can a person go to work in the mornin’
Come home in the evenin’ and have nothin’ to say” (“Angel From Montgomery”)

“That’s the way that the world goes ‘round
You’re up one day and the next you’re down
It’s a half an inch of water and you think you’re gonna drown
That’s the way that the world goes ‘round.” (“That’s The Way The World Goes ‘Round”)

“Father forgive us for what we must do
You forgive us and we’ll forgive you
We’ll forgive each other ‘til we both turn blue
Then we’ll whistle and go fishing in heaven (“Fish And Whistle”)

“Now my grandma was a teacher, went to school in Bowling Green
Traded in her milking cow for a Singer sewing machine
Well, she called her husband ‘Mister’, and walked real tall and proud
Used to buy me comic books after grandpa died” (“Grandpa Was A Carpenter”)

“Please don’t bury me down in that cold, cold ground
I’d rather have ‘em cut me up and pass me all around
Throw my brain in a hurricane and the blind can have my eyes
And the deaf can take both of my ears if they don’t mind the size” (“Please Don’t Bury Me”)

“I’m goin’ down to the Greyhound station, gonna get a ticket to ride
Gonna find that lady with two or three kids, and sit down by her side
Ride ‘til the sun comes up and down around me ‘bout two or three times
Feed the pigeons some clay
Turn the night into day
Start talkin’ again when I know what to say” (“Clay Pigeons”)

“When I get to heaven, I’m gonna shake God’s hand
Thank him for more blessings than one man can stand
Then I’m gonna get a guitar and start a rock ‘n’ roll band
Check into a swell hotel; ain’t the afterlife grand?” (“When I Get To Heaven”)

 

 

RIP John Prine 2020-04-08T15:35:03+00:00

Physically Distant, Socially Close

Transient hearts fly home, stay
Love from a distance today
Embrace freedom of the mind
Find joy there! A timeless kind

“Embrace freedom of the mind”?! “Find joy there!”? In my mind right now? A timeless kind of chatter that sounds exactly like breaking news.

And I wrote that quatrain! The first two lines are an ongoing duty. We must stay home! The last two lines? A desirable goal, seemingly unattainable at the moment.

I’ve been doing my Headspace mediation daily, bearing witness to zipping thoughts as I try to count breaths, glued to my chair for fifteen minutes or so, till Andy Puddicombe finally releases me, in his lovely English accent: “And you may open your eyes again.” Phew! And I pick up my phone to scroll newsfeeds, or check the TSX (up today), or catch a daily presser – Trudeau, the US President*, or if I’m lucky, my favourite, the Pacino-like, no nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is-with-facts governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo. Despite monumental challenges – the most coronavirus cases and deaths in the US, questionable help from the feds, various medical supply shortages (equipment, beds, etc) – he’s doing a good job, huh?

I’ve been working out most mornings too, doing Jazzercise in front of a full-length mirror in my bedroom, making sure not to knock over the plant on the shelf beside me with my arm, or kick the bed on one side, or the wall on the other. I had this grand idea of doing a junior Jazzercise set with my three grandkids – 7, 6 and 3 years old – daily, over FaceTime on my computer, but the camera is small, the connection dodgy, and well, it just didn’t work. Instead, I’ve been doing that set with my sister-in-law (we ignore the tiny images, dodgy connection) in exchange for art lessons, prodding my troubled brain to expand, learn something new.

But then this happened late last week. My daughter, Randelle, texted from her home in BC: “Hey fam, we think I have influenza. My entire body aches, headache, chills, sore throat. I can’t smell or taste anything.” Nooo! I was responding when my sister, who looks after WSIB claims for a food services and support company, called, sounding upset. She was up until midnight the night before working on employee layoffs. My husband B, who works in venue management, was upset too, also working on employee layoffs.

My background is construction; layoffs were part of the landscape. Fortunately, these layoffs are temporary and the government stimulus package goes a long way toward softening the financial blow.

As real as it might be, though, I rejected the notion of putting my daughter and coronavirus together. (I feel a mild headache coming on these days? I’ve got IT, a severe case, and I’m gasping for breath.) The fatal reports I’ve read are jarring: a 16-year-old girl in France who “just had a cough”, a 25-year-old pharmacy tech in LA with no underlying conditions, over 50 doctors in Italy.

Randelle and her fiancé had just made the sad decision to cancel their June wedding due to the pandemic. Please, I prayed, if she has IT, let it be the mild version.

One saving grace? B and I had started a 1500-piece jigsaw puzzle on the kitchen island and every time we walked by, we worked on it. An addictive and meditative distraction for a disturbing week.

Have you been able to figure out what’s going on with testing? CBC News tells me Canada has tested 221,000 and the US over one million. It seems we’re doing barely enough, and I keep hearing through medical channels that Ontario doesn’t have a good supply. Perhaps BC doesn’t either, because Randelle was not tested, despite her symptoms. Thankfully, she rallied by the weekend and was back up and about.

The experts, Bill Gates included (there’s a good new TED Talk interview on YouTube with him you should check out), say that to get our countries back on track at this point, now that the “horse is out of the barn”, we need to continue with physical distancing, while also ramping up testing so as to get a better handle on where IT is, contact tracing, etc. While Gates is truthful and knowledgeable about our current situation, he remains optimistic about our future abilities to handle a pandemic of greater consequence that may come.

I, personally, find the lack of test kits, ventilators and PPE deeply disturbing. Our countries have some of the most intelligent, creative and industrious minds on the planet and we can’t get our shit together to supply the front lines with the equipment they need to fight the war against this virus? Why? Are we that mired in bureaucracy?

If we don’t work in government, I guess there’s little we can do to fix things, except call our representatives. And, as far as our daily lives go, do we really need heads of state to show us the way, or can we help ourselves, in our own communities?

Earlier last week I listened to a great Podcast: Rich Roll and his wife, Julie Piatt. Roll made the comment that a reactive state is fear-based and therefore, not productive. Aha! That’s why the President* is an expert fear-mongerer: he prides himself on being reactive, not proactive.

So, if we go back to my little quatrain, this is a time for going inward. I mean, what the heck else is there to do? Most of us are stuck inside! One of Piatt’s cherished guides said this of our current situation: “This is a gentle way to wake us up to let us know what is going to be required for us to transform this planet.”

Pollution? Down. Consumerism? Down. Roll suggests, when we emerge from isolation, we pursue co-creation as opposed to consumption.

These are strange days. And scary and sad. I pray for the recovery of songwriting legend John Prine (“Angel from Montgomery”), who has been intubated due to coronavirus, is in stable condition. And I pray for anyone suffering, or anyone who has lost a loved one to any condition, as funerals are being downsized or postponed. And I pray for the front line workers, for the equipment they need, for the strength – physical and mental – for battle.

It’s a paradox, yes? We share the susceptibility to coronavirus with all of humanity, the world over, yet we must keep all humans, except the ones we live with, arm’s length away.

You have no choice right now. Go inward. See what you find.

 

 

 

 

 

Physically Distant, Socially Close 2020-03-31T10:16:36+00:00

Don’t Be a Covid-iot

“It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” R.E.M.

What a week, huh? How you doin’? Everyone ok out there in isolation land?

It feels like eons now, but it was just over a week ago that I sat on the couch with an upset tummy watching CNN. Instantly, the coronavirus became real:

  • Trump gave a solemn (he stayed on script) address from the Oval Office which was meant to calm, but ultimately rattled the masses
  • Breaking News– Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson, in Australia filming, diagnosed with coronavirus
  • Breaking News– NBA suspends season after player tests positive for coronavirus

Each item has impact, but come on. We know Trump lies, so the fact that he couldn’t get all the facts straight in his address? No biggie. And Tom Hanks? While it’s shocking that someone famous, someone we think we know, has IT, Hanks being ill didn’t shut down the movie industry. “NBA suspends season”!?!? Ok coronavirus. You’ve got our full attention.

Then? Over the next few days? Like “The Amazing Triple Spiral (15,000 dominoes)” I watched on YouTube recently with my grandson, all the various pieces of fabric that hold our society together were falling, click-click-click: schools, concerts, theatres, various sports, amusement parks, the stock market!

Buckle in and buckle up, folks. What a ride!

Prime Minister Trudeau’s wife tested positive, so he’s in self-isolation, holding daily pressers from a podium in front of his house, while camera crew and journalists stay a safe six feet away. I mean, just the fact that the PM is “holding daily pressers” is crazy. It’s a fast-moving target – “fluid” in newspeak – this pandemic, and all are scrambling to respond.

It’s not like we didn’t see IT coming. I mean, we’ve been watching the horrifying news on coronavirus from China since January, then cases were discovered in various other countries, notably in Italy, which has a high mortality rate and horrifying hospital conditions. Did we think coronavirus would somehow just never gain entry into North America?

And, as pandemics go, history is jam-packed: Black Death, small pox, Spanish flu. If you haven’t seen it, you must watch Bill Gates’ TED Talk: The next outbreak? We’re not ready Vancouver 2015, in which he predicts our current state of chaos. A 2017 study from the US National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) by N Madhav and others states, “Evidence suggests that the likelihood of pandemics has increased over the past century because of increased global travel and integration, urbanization, changes in land use, and greater exploitation of the natural environment (Jones and others 2008; Morse 1995). These trends will likely continue and will intensify.” Also, since you’ve lots of time to “quarantine & chill”, you could check out a new series on Netflix, “Pandemic”.

Canada has a “Pandemic Plan”, but I don’t think we have a pandemic team. The US had a “Pandemic Response Team”, disbanded in 2018. There’s been a shortage of tests (hindering containment and accuracy of statistics) and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), prompting the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) to say, “healthcare workers who can’t get a mask should use a bandana or scarf as a ‘last resort’ as supplies run short.” A “bandana or scarf”?! To protect people most at risk? And another truly frightening thing? Why we must work hard now at “social distancing” to “flatten the curve”? The US population is 330 million and there are approx 100,000 ICU beds and ventilators; Canada’s population is 38 million and there are approx 5,000 ICU beds and ventilators. With this illness, severe cases have required several weeks on a ventilator.

If too many people get seriously ill at the same time? Healthcare professionals are left in the excruciating position of having to make wartime-like decisions – like they’re doing right now in Italy – about who gets treatment and who doesn’t. Says reddit.com: “Your grandparents were asked to go to war. You are being asked to sit on a couch. Think about it carefully and act accordingly.”

If you’re confused on social distancing there’s a great article in The New Yorker called “How to Practice Social Distancing”. Basically, hunker down with the ones that brung you, the peeps you live with, while keeping all others a safe six feet away. The best advice I’ve heard is to go about your business like you have coronavirus; some stats say four out of five people infected got it from someone who didn’t know they had it.

Hosting a party with fifty of your closest friends? Hanging out on a crowded beach in Florida? The complete opposite of social distancing. You are being a “Covid-iot”, a term coined by my morning radio hosts, Taz and Jim on FM96, streaming from their separate homes, in quarantine for 14 days after returning from Florida.

Think Covid-19 is like the flu? Think again. Check out this article on Vox, “Why Covid-19 is worse than the flu, in one chart”. Here’s how:

  • Rate of infection (how many infected by someone infected): flu 1.3, Covid-19 2-2.5
  • Incubation time: flu 1-4 days, Covid-19 1-14 days
  • Hospitalization rate: flu 2%, Covid-19 19%
  • Case fatality rate: flu .1% or less, Covid-19 1-3.4%

The term “novel” virus means new; IT just jumped from animal to human so our bodies are also “fluid”, scrambling to figure out how to fight IT off. On one recent podcast I listened to, an expert explained that although a certain percentage of the population will get this virus over time, delaying it as long as possible not only eases the healthcare burden, but gives time for a vaccine to be developed and also may ease the punch.

Challenging times though, right? My husband B and I spent Sunday at the cottage, and it was a normal day – a sleep in, breakfast, a walk on the beach, hot tub, some reading – but just knowing IT was out there? Odd. I’ve not been sleeping well. I’m a news junkie, but need to ration the news right now. It’s too much to process. Like really, who would imagine that by yesterday this shocking headline – “California governor orders all 40 million residents to stay home” – would seem commonplace, one among a multitude of shocking headlines? And while I’m lucky in that my financial situation is not affected (except for the volatile TSX!), others around me worry about jobs, money, their future.

In times like these we must stay positive and practice gratitude for what we have. Technology allows us to stay connected, work safely from home. As one of my daughters pointed out on Instagram, “The outside is still open!” The supply chain is still in order, heat and lights are on.

Control what you can. Wash your hands properly and often (there are great YouTube videos on the proper technique and you probably have time to watch); this bug is powerless against soap. Sneeze or cough into your elbow. Clean that elbow, use it to bump; don’t shake hands. Stay home as much as possible. Stay in touch with friends and family through FaceTime, phone, text, email, mail.

Don’t be a Covid-iot. Stay safe, stay strong my friends.

Website photo: My grandkids social distancing and dancing like no one’s watching (just Mama), wearing their homemade crowns. Photo credit, Jetanne Di Cola.

Don’t Be a Covid-iot 2020-03-20T11:24:40+00:00

Sound of Silence

“In silence we are at one with the world. We don’t stand out, we aren’t separate from nature, we are no different from one another.” Andy Puddicombe, Headspace

In early March I stood at the Lake Huron shoreline, surveying mounded up, frozen and dirty waves. There was no sound. Nothing. It was as if the lake was holding its breath. Suspended. Between life and death.

Surely under all that crystalized ice there was movement? Sound? A soft moaning perhaps? I’m alive, she might whisper. I still support life.

Canada geese on the nearby frozen river honked, letting me know they were alive.

Why is silence so shocking? Often avoided at all costs? Is it because we’re born into noise? Equipped with two good ears that hear, our own racket greets us the moment we emerge, squawling from the womb. A voice, distorted, but we don’t realize until we hear it later in life, played back on some recording device. “That’s not what I sound like!” we protest.

So, sound number one (aside, perhaps, from womb sounds, like Mom’s heartbeat, vibrational voice, and whatever else might penetrate our cozy nest) is our own bloodcurdling response to birth. James Hollis, Phd, author of Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life, describes the commencement of our lifelong trauma this way: “The birth of life is also the birth of neurosis, so to speak, because from that moment on we are in service to twin agendas – the biological and spiritual drive to develop, to move forward, and the archaic yearning to fall back into the cosmic sleep of instinctual subsistence.” Oh man! That’s why life can be so tough!

But? Mom was there to ease my passage: cuddling, cooing, changing, feeding. Singing:

“This little piggy went to market . . .”

And? If you were a Boomer, like me? When you got home there was a black and white TV in the corner of the living room, blasting out a commercial jingle like this one:

“Double your pleasure, double your fun
with double good, double good Doublemint gum”

Blaring from the radio at the babysitter’s:

“Playin’ solitaire till dawn with a deck of 51
now don’t tell me I’ve nothin’ to do”

A Hank Snow album crackling from the hi-fi on Saturday evening, as Mom and Dad got dressed up to go dancing:

“Lazy bones, sleepin’ in the sun,
how you think you’re gonna get your day’s work done?”

So much sound, all around. Mom: vacuuming, polishing the floor, running the mixmaster, talking. Screen door opening, closing: big brother home from school, Dad home from work. “Dinnertime!”

The telephone! Do you miss the telephone ringing? (I sometimes miss the simplicity: a device that does one thing, transmits voice.) It was a black one, high on the kitchen wall above a tall stool with chrome fold-out legs that I loved to fold out, fold in, fold out, fold in. “Just don’t pinch your fingers!”

And, a special treat for me, just after I turned nine and was beginning to tire of my dollies: a real live baby in the form of my sister, crying from time to time. “There, there.”

A family. A life. Chock full of nuts! And sound.

If you desire and are lucky: your own family. Babies: crying, crawling, toddling, walking, running. Your own house! Full of sound. Inside, outside. Dog(s) perhaps: barking, nails clicking on the hardwood, collar clanging on the water dish.

It’s remarkable, yes? To experience years upon years of sound and then find yourself plunked on a beach near Grand Bend on a still day where there is . . . silence.

Like Simon & Garfunkel, The Sound of Silence: “Hello darkness, my old friend.”

Is it darkness that keeps us running from silence? Fear? Does silence mean the end of something? An era? A life? Our life?

In silence must we face something? Mortality? Eternity? The constant voice in the head: “I’m enough. No, I’m not. I matter. No, I don’t.”

You do know you’re divine, right? Christic – meaning “of Christ” – even? Perfect, as is.

You sure were to the Mom and Dad who greeted your squawling lungs all those years ago. Those two? They wanted nothing but the best for you.

Silence.

It’s ok. Nothing to fear here. You arrived on the wings of love.

The lake will thaw. She’ll recover her rhythmic beat. Lap, lap. Woosh, woosh. A heartbeat.

The lake-death-silence is temporary.

Like your life.

It’s ok.

 

Sound of Silence 2020-03-12T11:54:52+00:00

Goal of Life

“The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with nature.” Joseph Campbell

Wise words, yes? They’re from a man known for his work in mythology. Says George Lucas, the creator of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises, “Joseph Campbell peers through the centuries and shows us that we are all connected by a basic need to hear stories and understand ourselves.”

Stories connect and help us make sense of what it means to be human. That’s probably why we feel such a buzz after watching a movie or reading a book that resonates. And while movies and books are part of our culture, what about the rest of it?

In his medium.com article “The American Life is Killing You”, Erik Rittenberry writes, “This is the American Dream and this is the definition of success in our culture – degrees, jobs, families, consumerism, and raging debt.”

He calls it the “American Dream”, but it’s also the “Canadian Dream”. Years ago, I ran on this life treadmill: along with my late husband, Hugh, I oversaw various businesses, three kids, several properties, a few Standardbred horses and lots and lots of vehicles of various sizes, shapes, and purposes. Hugh came to me one day to say that we had inquiries into the purchase of our main business. We looked at each other and said, “Yeah, but then what would we do?”

What would we do? Hmmm. Why do we feel a need to be DOING all the time as opposed to BEING? Ok. I get it. I know you can’t just sit around all day BEING: debtors would come calling, you’d get pretty hungry, and your possessions would fall to rack and ruin. And besides, you’d get bored. But, for most people, there comes a time of reckoning, a time when one questions the wisdom of our capitalistic culture. What am I running for? What am I really after? Why not take a break and go walk in the woods?

Rittenberry puts it this way: “We prize HAVING over BEING, material possessions over experiences. We have contempt for nature these days and are too engrossed in the mechanical ways of living to truly FEEL what it means to be alive on this planet.”

If we spent more time with nature, took the time to “match” our nature with nature, perhaps we’d be more committed to climate change solutions? And be way less stressed?

According to mindyourmind.ca September 19, 2013, “. . . anxiety is the most common mental illness in Canada. More youth (aged 15 to 24) met the criteria for mood disorders and substance use disorders than any other age group.” And in the US? From time.com May 8, 2018: 18% of the US population have an anxiety disorder while almost 40% of Americans are becoming more anxious, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

How did we get so anxious? Rittenberry blames the stress mess we’re in on Edward Bernays, who was influenced by his uncle Sigmund Freud. Working in the post WWI era, as a propagandist – or in “public relations” if you prefer – Bernays employed his uncle’s theories on the human psyche to get people to buy stuff, such as cigarettes, which he promoted to women by labelling them “Torches of Freedom”. Wikipedia says, “he described the masses as irrational and subject to herd instinct – and outlined how skilled practitioners could use crowd psychology and psychoanalysis to control them in desirable ways.”

No! We were duped? By clever advertising? Again, from Wiki, “Consumerism is a social and economic order that encourages an acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts.” Which means? If our goal of life is to buy, buy, buy? We can’t get no satisfaction.

Says Rittenberry, “Instead of living poetic lives close to the earth with little possessions, we barricade ourselves behind drywall and plastic and sit in front of screens, constantly buying things we don’t need to impress assholes who are doing the same thing.”

How do we stop the madness? The trend toward minimalism sure helps. It may not be good for the economy, but it’s good for the environment and gives one a heck of a lot more time to spend in the great outdoors. Which makes one less stressed.

As for the economy, recall climate activist Greta Thunberg’s strong words at the UN Climate Action Summit last September: “People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are at the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”

I love that line: “fairytales of eternal economic growth”. High time to change our thinking – and hence, our actions – yes? Are we truly just about money? Power? More stuff? How do we define success? Are we happy?

Writes Rittenberry, “Decondition yourself from culture, quit suppressing your uniqueness, travel to places that frighten you a bit, learn to embrace silence and solitude a few times a week. And most importantly – you must awaken from your culturally-induced slumber and try to find simple joy among the sacred.”

Ah, the “simple joy among the sacred”. And with that in mind, here’s a beautiful – and appropriate – poem I saw in a recent blog, to remind us of our place on the planet:

The Moment by Margaret Atwood

The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,

is the same moment when the trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can’t breathe.

No, they whisper. You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way round.

Website photo: My daughter, Randelle, hiking trails in BC, discovering her goal of life all around her.

Goal of Life 2020-02-28T12:33:50+00:00

Patience of Job

You’ve heard that saying, yes? “Oh, look at poor Margie. Husband’s a drunk and kids are all on the dole. Got the patience of Job (pronounced Jobe) that girl.”

My mom – who’s been on my mind a lot lately because she passed at this time of year 16 years ago – used to say it all the time. Mom’s speech was also abundant with hyperbole – much like the latest impeached US president – but she never used it to deceive or be unkind. Here’s some examples from one of our last dinner outings, at a Mexican restaurant:

“This is the best coffee I’ve ever tasted.” “Look at the size of this glass of water. This is way too much! I’ll never drink this in a million years.” “Do you like Mexican food? I don’t. My friend Shirley loves it so much! Can’t get enough of it.”

As a child these extremes were alarming. Our family could go from having “the best day ever” to having the worst in zero to 60 seconds. As I grew, though, I came to realize that this was just Mom’s way – Dad always said she had the “gift” (of gab) – and I learned to decide for myself what kind of day I was having while tuning out Mom’s take on it.

Which is what, perhaps, the majority of Americans – as well as so many in the free world – do (or feel they must do) whenever the current president* tweets or opens his mouth. In response to Truth or Consequences my brother’s girlfriend, who refers to the president* as “he who shall not be named”, pointed out that the best way to train a dog – or even a kindergartner demanding attention – is to turn your back, ignore them, so as to not encourage bad behaviour. Less press might do the trick?

Even White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham, in defense of the president*’s threatening tweet to House Manager Adam Schiff (“He has not paid the price, yet, for what he has done to our Country!”) suggests not giving his words much thought:

“People put meanings behind what he said. The president* speaks in a very unique way, he’s a counter-puncher, he’s saying what’s on his mind.” Hmmm. He’s “saying what’s on his mind”, which is dark, but people shouldn’t “put meanings behind what he said”? Conflicting, to say the least. After these types of comments and more than 15,000 false or misleading claims since taking office? Impeachment gets to the Senate, witnesses and evidence are turned down and Republicans lose it because most people can’t believe the president* when he says, “no quid pro quo”, “Parnas, I don’t know him” and his Ukraine call was “perfect”. Wow.

Since a great deal of patience seems necessary for at least the next several months, let’s get back to the story of Job. He was a wealthy guy, “blameless” and “upright”, living in Uz with his extended family and vast flocks. God brags to Satan about Job’s virtue, but Satan says it’s just because God has favoured him and convinces God to let him mess with Job in an experiment, certain that Job will end up cursing God.

Job gets four reports in the space of one day, learning that thieves and natural disasters have killed his sheep, servants, and ten children. Job tears at his clothes and shaves his head, but still praises God. Satan then inflicts him with terrible skin sores and Job’s wife urges that he give up God and die, but Job protests.

Three of Job’s companions come to comfort him, each offering their thoughts on his situation, seeming to suggest that he must have committed some evil act. As noted in the Bible Story of Job, Job becomes “bitter, anxious and scared. He deplores the injustice that God lets evil people thrive while he and many other honest people suffer.”

Injustice! Evil people thriving while honest people suffer! This is my point. This is what tears at me! I keep looking for justice and it won’t come! Should not our heroes be good? Honest? Decent? At least likeable?

God eventually comes to Job, commanding he be brave, explaining various aspects of His creation and, when Job accepts the limits of his mortality, he is rewarded with good health, property, children, a long life. The message? Never give up hope or faith.

In a recent Rich Roll podcast with actor Edward Norton, they discussed how belief in God is such a sure bet. If heaven doesn’t await? There is no God? You will have lived your life well, with kindness.

They brought up climate change in this regard as well. So what if some of the science is incorrect, if we don’t really know how fast the environment is deteriorating, or how quickly we can bring it back? Planting a gazillion (you’re welcome, Mom) trees, saving species and eliminating plastic are still worthwhile endeavours, yes?

Belief in “he who shall not be named”? I still don’t get it, but so many still do believe in him. I want to turn my back, but if he’s a bad dog, he’s a pitbull attacking, and, while he often acts like a kindergartner, he wields a shit ton of power and, for sure, he carries a knife.

As I’ve noted before, growing up this president* was told by his pa, “You are a king. You are a killer.” The Senate crowned him King USA. With the exception of the odd terrorist, let’s hope and pray he doesn’t take the killing thing so seriously.

 

 

Patience of Job 2020-02-07T09:57:57+00:00