Wednesday, April 29, 2015

April 29, 2015

Different geographic areas have different symbols—images that on their own represent the emotional, and maybe even the spiritual essence of the place it represents, both to its inhabitants, and to the world at large.

For my country, Canada, it’s the maple leaf. Although there are maple trees in so many different locations throughout North America, the maple tree and its distinctive leaf are special here, north of the 49th parallel. And while it means many different things to individual Canadians, you can be certain that to each of us there is an almost visceral connection to the image of it, when it appears before us.

Of course, symbols aren’t just nation-wide. Sometimes they’re province wide or—in the case of my neighbors to the South, state-wide. For Nova Scotia, for example, the symbol most often associated with that Atlantic province is a picture of the light house at Peggy’s Cove; for Alberta it’s Banff National Park, with Lake Louise prominent; for Ontario, it’s the C. N. Tower in Toronto.

This isn’t only, as I’ve already pointed out, a Canadian phenomenon. In the United States, geographic areas have their symbols as well. Of course the first image Americans hold dear is their flag. Americans have a stronger emotional connection with the Stars and Stripes than we Canadians do with our own flag. That’s completely understandable since the red and white Maple Leaf has only been our flag since 1965.

There’s the Liberty Bell, the image of which makes us think of Pennsylvania. I’ve spoken to Pennsylvanians who have a distinctive emotional, pride-filled reaction to seeing that symbol. Other areas as well have their “symbols” – pictures that once seen, stir the heart and the spirit and engender pride and love. For Michigan it’s the Great Lake that bears its name; for California it’s the Golden Gate bridge; and for Texas? Texas has two great symbols as is befitting that state—The Alamo, and a container of Blue Bell ice cream.

April 20th of this year was a dark day for my Texan friends. You see, on that day Blue Bell announced a recall of all of its products, and that production of its ice cream had been suspended due to a Listeria outbreak. This total recall is the final stage in a process that began last month with a limited recall, the very first one in the family-owned business’s 108 year history.

Listeria can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, the elderly, and any whose immune system is weak. According to the Center for Disease Control, in the United States an estimated 1,600 people become seriously ill with Listeria each year, and about 16% of these become fatalities.

Clearly, a total recall until the source of the contamination is found, and the problem fixed, is the right thing to do. Personally I applaud the company for doing the right thing. What has to happen is that all of the manufacturing equipment has to be taken apart and thoroughly cleaned, as this bacterium is stubborn and can live for a very long time.

The CEO and President of the company, Paul Kruse, has promised to make sure all products are safe before they go back on sale. This is a very good thing. In an age when we often feel that greed steers the ship of commerce, this is a very good thing indeed. Blue Bell has put the welfare of their customers ahead of profits. This is more than commendable. This justifies the importance of Blue Bell as a symbol of the Great State of Texas.

It is, however, a devastating situation for many Texans. After reading the reports and observing the discussion in social media, I have come to appreciate just how emotionally attached some are to their Blue Bell ice cream, and what a deep and meaningful symbol it is to many Texans.

A lot of grocery stores don’t have shelves of different kinds of ice cream for consumption the way they do up here. They have two freezers for Blue Bell, and a tiny token space for all the other brands, combined. As one person said, “Blue Bell isn’t just an ice cream it is the only ice cream. If there’s no Blue Bell, there’s no ice cream, period. We might just as well cancel summer.”

To my friends who are suffering, I urge them to take heart. Doing the right thing is always the right thing. The ice cream will flow again, and all will be well.

It’s simply a matter of time.


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

April 22, 2015

What is your legacy?

Have you ever wondered what memories and impressions in others you’re creating with each day lived, each action taken—or not taken? Have you ever thought about what your impact is on family and friends, and how you’ll be remembered? What kind of person are you? What matters to you the most? Do you live your life to the fullest, or have you always pulled your punches, and are now riddled with regrets?

Life is so short. We none of us know how long we’ll be here. We don’t know why some people are given more than a hundred years here on this planet, while others’ lives can be measured in days or weeks or only a couple of decades. We don’t know why, for example, in the midst of a violent attack, a grandmother survives, while, just inches away from her, a child dies.

All we have is what we have, and we never have more than one day at a time. We hope for more, and because it is in our nature, we plan for more. But we don’t ever have more. We only ever have today. In fact, we only ever have this moment.

Some people are spiritual beings, open to the possibilities of different faiths and beliefs. Some people only believe what they can see with their eyes and touch with their hands. Each of us might hold that our beliefs are the only right ones. Or we might accept that some matters are between the individual and the God they worship. With so much diversity, and so many differences, where you find your comfort and your strength, is as individual as you are. One thing, however, we all can agree upon, is that what we do and who we are can have an impact on others. We all have the ability to do ill, or do good. That’s our choice.

Because that is true, then I believe that leaving a legacy of caring is an enviable thing. Being a person who loves others, helps others, and thinks of others’ well-being before their own is to give blessings and receive them back a hundred fold.

 You cannot purchase the sense of satisfaction you get from having touched someone in a positive way in any store for any amount of money. There is no substitute for the internal benefits you get for being a person who seeks to uplift others, rather than to tear them down.

When you seek to leave a legacy of love, you’re doing the very best thing in the world that you could possibly do. You are giving increase to others and gifting them with a part of yourself.

It’s never too late to make a difference in the life of one person. You don’t have to spend a lot of money, or do anything heroic. You don’t even need to spend a lot of time. You really just need to take your eyes off yourself and put them on someone else for a little bit. Even a smile, given to someone who looks alone, or sad, or just thoughtful is something you can do to make a difference in that one person’s life.

I know that life is hard, and full of challenges that must be met, and obstacles that must be overcome. Trials hit us all, as does pain both physical and emotional, and the tragedy of loss. These things are inevitable. And it is because life can be hard and harsh that even small gestures and random acts of kindness matter so much. People matter. Every life is worthwhile, and every life counts.

So, what is your legacy?

When I’m gone, and people think of me, I hope they smile and say, now there was a good friend.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

 April 15, 2015

Twice in the space of the last week or so, tragedies have struck in two separate incidents that were headlined on the US evening news. Those two stories centered on twelve deaths, that were completely preventable. I’m sure you know the news stories I’m referring to. The first was in Baltimore. A father and his seven children, aged 6 to 15 died in their sleep a week ago Monday, as the result of carbon monoxide poisoning.

With no electricity in their rented house, the family was using a gas fed generator for heat.

Then, the following Friday afternoon, in Queens, New York, and elderly couple and two other older people were discovered to have perished. The suspected cause, again, was carbon monoxide poisoning—this time from a car left running in an attached garage.

You may recall that more than a year ago, in March of 2014, I penned an essay about the dangers of exposure to carbon monoxide.

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless and tasteless gas that can kill. The only way it can be detected is with an approved CO (the periodic symbol for carbon monoxide) detector/alarm. Here in the Province of Ontario having such a device in your home is the law. The really good news is that a CO detector can be had for a fairly modest sum—usually under 25 dollars. If the home in Baltimore and the home in Queens had each been equipped with these detectors—a combination of fifty dollars worth of technology—then 12 people who are now dead, seven of them children with their entire lives ahead of them—would now be alive.

Carbon monoxide is a four-season killer, as people have various gas appliances in their homes. Misuse of these appliances, improper installation, even stupidity can all contribute to tragedies like these.

Tragedies that, I say again, are completely preventable.

As I was looking for the facts on the above two cited cases, I came upon a third one, a story I had not seen on the news. A mother, 29, and her 7 year old daughter died in their East Orange, New Jersey home the week of April 1, also from carbon monoxide poisoning. The culprit was once again a gas generator, this one in the basement, and not properly ventilated.

The night before her death, this young mother had been chatting on Face Book with a relative. According to that relative, she had said they should get together soon, because with death and sickness, life was just too short not to.

That young mother had no idea how true her words would prove to be.

Maybe, if I write about this one more time, someone who might not understand the nature of this silent killer will finally get it, and take that one, very simple yet vital preventative measure.

I’m going to repeat myself. Carbon monoxide is a “four season” killer, as a lot of us have homes that are fuelled by combustible fuels—not just our furnaces in the cold weather, but our hot water heaters, and our kitchen stoves as well. In truth, it’s not just natural gas that can create carbon monoxide, but all other fossil fuels as well. If you burn wood in a fireplace and it’s not vented right—or if you try to use a charcoal barbecue indoors—you’re creating carbon monoxide. Yes, the gas is odorless, colorless and tasteless, but in the last two examples, the killer gas is wrapped up in wood smoke.

If you don’t already have a carbon monoxide detector in your home, get one. They’re available at Wal-Mart, Lowes, Home Depot, Ace Hardware, and even on Amazon!

Please, please, please, spread the word. A CO detector can be life saving—and the life it could save might be your own, your spouse’s, you children’s, your grandchildren’s or your neighbor’s.


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

April 8, 2015

Whether you’ve just celebrated Easter or are currently celebrating Passover, I hope the holiday was and is all you hoped it would be. Customs vary widely, but all have some common elements. The largest of these is the inclusion of family and friends.

Whether we approach these special times traditionally, as our forbearers did, or we add our own modern twists, it’s the sharing with family and friends that makes these occasions memorable. And holidays observed without family close by are often spent recalling those memories made during earlier times.

My granddaughter, who is 14, asked me about Easter when I was a kid, and what it would have been like for her dad, our late son. From my childhood there are some traditions that stand out in my memory more than others. There were the candy baskets, of course, and the hunt for Easter eggs. In my house, both when I was a child and later, as a parent of young children, these were actual eggs—hard boiled by us the night before, and colored, and then “hidden” by the Easter bunny over night.

More than once as a young mom I had to spend time in the days following Easter Sunday hunting for that one egg that always seemed to defy being found. I wasn’t anal enough in those days to make a list of the hiding places.

The other thing I recall as a child was the whole, “get dressed up and go to Church” ritual that “Easter Parade” I used to hate. Today, going to Church isn’t the fancy dress occasion it used to be. I always figured too much emphasis was placed on the outside, instead of the inside where it belonged. I was raised Anglican (Episcopalian) and I’m old enough to recall that women and girls didn’t go into the church without having their heads covered. I never really knew why that was. But Easter Sunday was an even fussier occasion than normal, and the hats fussier still.

 I recall a light pink dress, and a darker pink coat that was way too thin to be warm, and a hat that I really didn’t like. I would have been 5 or 6 at the time. Oh, and the white, for-Church-only shoes with the buckle in the wrong place and that were very uncomfortable. How could I forget them, or the socks with the itchy lace around the top? “Don’t scratch!” was an admonition that regularly interrupted the Easter liturgy when I was a kid.

Even being little, I understood the spiritual significance of Easter. That has never changed, but it’s the social rituals, shared with my family, that I look back on and recall so easily, rituals no longer observed. Right down to the colored eggs brought into the car with a salt shaker, for a treat to be enjoyed on the way home from services. In those days it was practically the only time we ate in the car.

This year, we awoke to a lovely gift from Mother Nature on Easter Sunday—about an inch and a half of snow, where none had been the night before. It was actually the only kind of snow I like, because as I looked out my front door, I saw white on the grass and on the vehicles, but not on the road.

My beloved, when he got up, looked out the window and then asked, “What month is it again?” Of course, this is Canada and we can both recall snowfalls as late as early May. I don’t want to think about that particularly, because I have green shoots breaking ground in my flower beds.

Soon I’ll have tulips and daffodils and narcissi, sweet spring blooms to fill the air with their fragrance. I’m on tenterhooks waiting to see if my lilies-of-the-valley, my lilacs, and my peonies survived. I’ve been hoping for some sign of life in my one and only rose bush, planted last year.

I know it’s a bit early for that in this area, yet.

March came and went nearly without consequence, not making much of an impression at all. The first week of April has been an unpredictable mix of cold and mild, and if it wasn’t for the fact that Easter is behind us, it would be tough to say, for certain, that spring had indeed arrived.

Not unpredictable is the reality that time marches on, regardless of our fussing about or the weather, in a cycle that in many ways resembles a rodent’s wheel.

And spinning ever faster with each progressive year.

Love, Morgan

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

April 1, 2015

Do you recall the days when jokes were not only allowed, but encouraged? In this politically correct age, those sour pusses who seem to be in charge of all things societal ensure that laughter is a rare occurrence, indeed. And yet laughter is one underrated commodity that is so very important to human well-being. And here’s the other.

There’s the one about the two vehicles that get into a fender bender. Both drivers get out of their cars. One is a young man of average height, the second, a somewhat older man who, though fairly muscular, is height-wise, quite diminutive.

The shorter of the two drivers looks at the other one and says, “I am not happy!” Where upon the other driver cocks his head to the side and says, “No? Well, then, which one are you?”

You’ve often read right here in these essays that my firm belief is that the purpose of life is not to show us a good time. And I really do believe that. But I also believe that laughter, and happiness, are as important to us, and our journey, as is the growth we achieve through tough times.

But how do we balance things out? And how do we know if we’re happy?

Happiness is a concept that is misunderstood, in my opinion, very underrated. Some say the opposite, but to them I would point out that in one of the most important documents put forth by mankind, ever—The United States Declaration of Independence—the pursuit of happiness is one of the three “inalienable” rights given us by our Creator.

We have organizations that make as their cause célébré the right to life. We also have organizations dedicated to liberty—civil, and otherwise.

Do we have an organization, anywhere, dedicated to the pursuit of happiness?

Ah, but Morgan, you may say, how does one define happiness? It’s such a subjective concept! I agree, which was why the framers of the Declaration of Independence didn’t say, “life, liberty and happiness”, but rather “the pursuit of happiness”.

So what, then, if it is a subjective concept? That just means that in life, as in the clothing boutique, one size does not fit all.

Are you happy?

I Googled the word happiness, and the on-line dictionary offered these two definitions: 1). The state of being happy, and 2). Good fortune; pleasure; contentment; joy.

So, let’s think about this for a minute. And since I cannot speak to your state of being, I’ll speak to my own—and I’ll answer my own question. Am I happy?

Let’s see. I’m 60, and I am in reasonable shape for the shape I’m in. I’ve had one heart attack, thirteen years ago, and a triple-bypass of the same vintage. I have diabetes, and I have arthritis so severe in both ankles and knees that I walk with a cane, and am in considerable pain, every single day. As I await my gall bladder surgery, I’m reluctant to wander too far away from my home. In my home, I don’t have near enough energy, or stamina, to do all the things each day I want to do. I’ve lost my parents, a sister, a granddaughter and a son.

And yet, I am so aware of the many ways in which I have been blessed. I have a home, food on the table, a husband to whom I’ve been married more than 42 years. I have a son and a daughter-in-law, and a daughter, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. I get to live my passion, which is writing, and I know that people—many people, read my words. Every day is a new adventure, and I awaken each morning filled with gratitude for another chance to do something to help make someone else happy. I find pleasure and contentment in my daily routine, and in the various communications I have with people, some of whom I’ve never even met face to face. And when I hear that someone was down, but then turned to one of my books and felt better for the experience, my heart fills with joy, and yes, again, gratitude.

By the above definition, then, I’m happy. And do you know what? I really am.

What about you?