Wednesday, November 26, 2014

November 26, 2014

The very first Wednesday’s Words that I wrote was only a couple of paragraphs long, just prior to Thanksgiving, 2006. My first book was going to be released in March of 2007, and I came up with the idea of a weekly essay—primarily at the time to get my name “out there”. Between then and now, I have missed but a few Wednesdays. Personally, I can’t believe I have had enough opinions to last for a once a week essay for eight years.

Of course, the love of essay writing has since eclipsed the desire for publicity when it comes to writing these words for you each week.

I generally shy away from overly controversial topics. That’s just my nature. I see no reason to offend people with my own political or religious views. Because I’m Canadian, I tend not to speak out about the issues facing my American friends, as they head to the voting booth, or more recently, as they deal with tense domestic situations.

I can feel sympathy for a mother who loses a son, and for a cop who believes he’s doing his job when he shoots that son—even when it would seem those two emotions are in conflict, one with the other. I can also tell you that in my 60 years, I have noticed that looting, pillaging, burning, destroying—none of these actions has ever been successful in obtaining justice for anyone. Except, of course, against those doing the looting, pillaging, burning and destroying.

I know there are a lot of people who don’t believe “the system” works. But if mob violence, and striking out against others, hurting the innocent alongside the not-so-innocent with brutality could change the way the system does operate, then it would be even more badly broken than it already is.

The one thing I know without question is this: there is a lot of hurting, a lot of anger, and a lot of desperation in the world today. Having experienced all three of those emotions in my lifetime, I wouldn’t wish any of them on anyone.

We’re entering the time of year when families get together, to celebrate their special holidays. It’s also, and not coincidentally the time of year when those who are lonely, or in need, feel those circumstances most keenly. I know of some people who work in the public sector who cringe as the holiday season approaches, because there always seems to be an increase in general grumpiness—aka the hurting, the anger and the desperation.

“Bah, humbug” rivals “ho, ho, ho” for the title of the most overused expression of the season.

We hold on, and we hope that the tensions and the tempers will ease, that the weather will ease, and that the economy will continue to improve, little by little, so that keeping body and soul together becomes less of a titanic struggle.

One thing I have noticed lately that is very encouraging, is the number of people making daily posts in social media of things for which they’re thankful. I have long believed that one of the secrets to happiness is having an attitude of gratitude all the time.

No matter how bad things get in your life, there is always something to be thankful for. I’m not just sucking wind here. My beloved and I have known great loss, and great need. And even in those darkest of days, there were things that we were grateful for.

Maybe if we focus on that, on being thankful, we’ll invite a little good karma into our lives and thereby into our world.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

November 19, 2014

I’m not going to complain one bit about the unseasonable cold, or the four inches of snow we have on the ground. I’m not going to grumble about the slightly impaired driving conditions, or having to take extra care getting about when I’m outside. I’ve been watching the news, and I know so many of my American friends have it so much worse.

I don’t think I have ever seen as much bad weather as y’all have been having over the last few months. My beloved and I sit down a few nights a week to watch the evening news on ABC, and each time we have, there’s been another headline about severe weather in the United States.

More often than not, we just sit and stare, and then say, “Again??”

Monday night it was reported that the mainland US is currently more than 50 percent snow-covered, and it was only about 12 percent covered this time last year. That’s a heck of a difference. And cold? This latest influx of arctic weather we’re all enduring makes last year’s polar vortexes seem like an autumn chill.

Now, the weather is the weather, and it is cyclical. We humans have only been recording it scientifically for what, just over a century? So we don’t really know what the big picture is, with regard to “normal”. We have a tendency in our own ego-centric way, to call “normal” that which we’re used to. But we don’t know whether a span of several years of highly unsettled, unstable weather isn’t on its own, normal.

But on the surface of things it appears as if our climate is running amok, meteorologically speaking. And I have to wonder how anyone can truly doubt that we’ve damaged our own environment with the way we have carelessly spewed chemicals and gasses into the air for decades.

There’re these things in existence called natural laws. One of those laws is summed up as “cause and effect”. Or, if you prefer a biblical term for it, “sowing and reaping”.

Yes, they’re the same thing.

You have to wonder, if our atmosphere ideally is comprised of a balance of certain gasses, and we send other gasses recklessly into the mix, how we could expect anything but change and upheaval when nature’s balance is disrupted that way.

We have to do a better job of stewardship with regard not only to this planet but the creatures and people populating it. God gave us this planet, and we need to respect his gift, and take better care of it, because from all I’ve heard and seen, there’s not another one waiting in the wings for us to use.

Some problems in life seem insurmountable to us. They’re huge in scope, and we think, since we’re so puny, that we can’t do anything to make a difference. But that thinking is just plain wrong. If everyone does something, then something big will happen.

 Let me say that again, because it is important. If everyone does something, then something big will happen. That’s not wishful thinking or naiveté or even unbridled optimism.

That, my friends, is mathematics.

Here’s a simplistic illustration of what I mean. Have you ever seen that proposition: which would you rather have, five million dollars, or a penny doubled every day for 30 days?

Did you ever work it out mathematically? One cent, on day two, would be two cents; on day 10 it would be $10.24. On day 20, it’s looking a little better – it’s now $10,485.76. And on day 30? $10,737,418.24.

One cent isn’t much—it’s what you do with it that counts. Combined, multiplied, it’s a fortune. So too are the acts, the small, daily acts, that we each can perform, the small decisions we each can take every day, to do a better job taking care of our planet.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

November 12, 2014

I haven’t always taken the time to remember. Some years, the moment passed, and I, unawares, continued on with the minutia of my life. There may have been a time or two when I couldn’t actually stop, and ponder, and observe. As I get older, I recognize that many of those failures to give tribute were born out of a life full of shallow and sometimes frivolous goals and ideas and occupations.

As I get older, I make a better effort to keep the day on my mental schedule, and think about it as it approaches.

I remember that there was a war that began a century ago this year, and ended four years later with a cease fire that was enacted in the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, in the eleventh month. In Canada, this day of which I speak, November 11, is known as Remembrance Day.

We live in a free and prosperous nation, one in which peace prevails, and the rule of law is embraced; one in which individual citizens have the right and the privilege and the responsibility to vote, to have their say in the laws and the rules which guide us all. That freedom and that rule of law and that peace were all bought and paid for by the blood of our nation’s sons and daughters, our mothers and fathers, our sisters and brothers.

We owe a debt to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in the cause of freedom. That debt is only in part a debt of respect and remembrance. It is also a debt of determination: to hold fast to those freedoms they purchased for us at so high a price, and to guard them, ceaselessly. It is a debt best expressed in the great optimism uttered in the aftermath of the Great War: never again.

Watching the camera pan the crowds at our National War Memorial ceremony of remembrance yesterday, the faces of the elderly, uniformed, beribboned, and somber made me wonder. In eyes turned translucent with age, I saw true remembrance: as the bugler played The Last Post; as the moment of silence descended; as the cannons fired on interval; as the Governor-General spoke of the purpose behind our having these memorials erected in the center of out towns, great and small, across the nation; as Princess Anne, The Princess Royal, read a message from Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, the Queen of Canada.

I saw remembered camaraderie, and remembered pain. I saw remembered struggle and remembered victory. I saw the understanding that they had lived on, while those with whom they shared that camaraderie, and terrible violence of conflict, had not.

War has been a part of the human landscape since the first caveman picked up a club. Violence exists in our society because it exists in our DNA. On Remembrance Day, we recognize this quality in ourselves, and rededicate ourselves to doing all we can to honor their sacrifice and to keep the peace. And sometimes keeping the peace means actions taken to stop aggressors and oppressors and those who would destroy us in the name of dogma.

As dichotomous as it sounds, sometimes keeping the peace means going to war.

We know this and we acknowledge this, and we promise to those who’ve gone before us, and to those who shall come after us, that we will not take these decisions, or their sacrifices, lightly.

And we vow, once more, that we shall never forget.


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

November 5, 2014

Anyone who’s read these essays knows I’m opinionated, but there are some topics I shy away from. I try not to preach my religion to you, and I stay away from political topics. This isn’t to say I don’t have opinions in those areas—I just keep them to myself.

Instead, I try to write about the personal values I have—y’all know by now I believe that people need to accept responsibility for their lives, and their actions. I believe in self-reliance, and I believe we all have a duty to help those less fortunate.

I suppose my beliefs were forged in my childhood. I can still recall the time my mother got this horrified look on her face, when, as a teenager, I proclaimed some circumstance or other to be “not fair”. “Who the hell ever told you that life was fair? It’s not fair, not for anyone.” And then she added, that if it was, my father wouldn’t have died so young.

She didn’t often mention him—even then I knew that to be caused by her great, unrelenting grief. My mother was only forty-three when she was widowed, and in the few years she had left on this earth—she passed away at 56—she never even looked at another man.

Growing up without having a dad, and with a mother who took responsibility for everything that needed doing, surely shaped me. But there was one other incident in my relative youth that shaped my outlook in life, and I want to share that with you.

You may think of Canada as being a peaceful, even polite nation, untouched by terrorism; but we went through an act of ‘domestic terrorism’ before that phrase was ever coined. It took place in 1970, when I was sixteen years old. Referred to now as the “October Crisis”, it began with the kidnapping of two government officials—British Trade Commissioner James Cross, and the Quebec provincial Minister of Labor, Pierre Laporte—by a group that called itself le Front de libération du Québec(Quebec Liberation Front), the FLQ.

The government’s response to these acts of terror was swift; Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau invoked the only peacetime use of the War Measures Act, giving police sweeping powers of detainment without writ, and the deployment of Canadian Forces who only ever served as support to the civil authorities. During this period, police detained 467 people, all but 62 of whom were released without being charged. In the end, Mr. Cross was released, Mr. Laporte was murdered, the perpetrators were eventually arrested and convicted, and the FLQ disbanded, never to terrorize again.

The other response to this act that seems remarkable in today’s world was that not a great deal of “media attention” was focused on those perpetrators—they weren’t featured, spotlighted, or made into media stars.

 I mention all of this, because of an incident you may have heard about that took place in our nation’s capital a couple of weeks ago. A person, “radicalized” to the cause of ISIS, after having shot and killed a young solider standing as guard at the National War Monument, proceeded to enter the Center Block of our Parliament building in Ottawa, in an obvious attack directed toward the Canadian government. While Caucus was locked down, for the protection of the government ministers including our Prime Minister, and the security team advanced, Kevin Vickers, a 58 year old former RCMP officer, and our current Sergeant-at-arms, left his office, gun hand, ran toward where the suspect was hiding behind a column, and without hesitation, held his pistol in a two-handed grip, leapt, turned in mid air, and opened fire on the criminal, even as he himself hit the hard marble-over-concrete floor on his back.

He was joined at that point by the bulk of the security force and they also opened fire. Mr. Vickers then returned to his office, reloaded, and went back to the “field” as no one, at that point, knew for certain if the attacker had help or not.

When it was deemed the gunman had indeed acted alone, Mr. Vickers entered the caucus room—gun still in hand—went to the microphone, and announced, “I have engaged the suspect, and he is deceased”.

The next day—the very next day—parliament re-opened, and it was back to business as usual.

Mr. Vickers received a standing ovation from the members of Parliament and the Prime Minister as he performed his ceremonial duty of bringing one of the symbols of power into the chamber. In true Canadian fashion, he nodded his thanks and appeared embarrassed by all the attention. Later, he said the true heroes were the rest of the security force. And then he, too, got back to work—business as usual.

Immediate action, spotlight on the victims and the heroes and not the villains, and then back to work.

That’s how you deal with domestic terrorism. I was very proud, on that day in particular, to be Canadian.