Friday, October 31, 2014

What's Not Okay

Oh Canada; proud, strong and free
It has been a tough couple of weeks to be a Canadian. Last week, in two separate incidents, Canadian military members were killed; both random acts of violence, but both meant to be strikes against our country. The deaths rocked us as a nation. And with good reason. Despite the violence, we banded together and swore to remain united in our peace, honesty and trustful natures.

And then on Sunday, a well-loved and respected radio host from our public broadcaster was fired from a post that he helped to create. The media was set ablaze by a Facebook post he published outlining some of the details. He warned that more details would come from people intent on smearing him and his career. Well, those details have come forth and they are worse than ugly. As far as his career is concerned, it may or may not be salvageable. Certainly, his private life has been made public in such a way that the world seems to have been given a seat in his bedroom. Without benefit of trial, he has been condemned to the full extent that the media can punish him. And I struggle to look away.

I love Canada. It is my home and native land. I am proud to recognize myself as a native and yet ashamed that as a nation we apparently have been duped by a charming individual intent on his own self-fulfillment and satisfaction. I have read the stories and am aghast at every new piece of the plot. Women have come forth, both anonymously and now using their own faces and names, to share their stories. Have we harboured a criminal amongst us? Have we given a wolf sheep's clothing and begged him to lead us? It is not for me to decide and for that I am thankful. But the number of women who have shared stories too similar and too awful is enough to cause doubt in the most ardent supporters and fans. Those fans have dropped rapidly over the last week.

So why do I let the story of a celebrity who has fallen from grace affect me so? As Canadians, we are supposed to be good, honest people. We are supposed to put forth the best qualities that we can and emulate the unwavering faith in our country and humanity, like Corporal Cirillo and Warrant Officer Vincent did. Sure they weren't perfect, but they died in the line of duty, their lives taken as they represented all that is good, nay Great on Canadian soil. And now we are sullied by an individual that appears to have taken his self-serving needs much too far in their satisfaction. I don't need to name this individual for my fellow Canadians. His face has been splashed across the media this week, even while the CBC has ripped it off of any piece of their property. And if the reports are true, then so they should.

For the story is ultimately about women. The story is about respect or a lack thereof. The tales that are spewing forth tell of violence masked in consensual BDSM. The problem lies in the lack of consent, hence we speak of abuse. They say he hit them. Nine women claim this now. Who knows if more will come forth, others will keep their secrets to themselves, or some will recant these vicious images that us dismayed Canadians are being forced to witness. Regardless of how this story plays out, I suspect that the conversation about abuse will be a little louder now.

You see abuse doesn't always happen to the other woman. It doesn't always end up being meted out to the sluts or girls that 'wanted' it to happen. The women that are sharing these stories come from a wide variety of backgrounds and education levels. None of them seemed to ask to be hit. None of them seemed to enjoy being called names or being made to feel like it was a normal part of life. They all pushed the abuse into "the past" to try to move beyond it and try to forget how it made them feel. But today, they realized that for the actions they allowed to be Okay, by not standing up against the abuse, those actions continued and touched too many other people. And it was NOT ok.

It is NOT okay for someone to make you feel stupid, worthy of abuse, or like you asked for it. It is NOT okay for someone to hit you, choke you, or rape you. It is also not okay for someone to isolate you from friends, family or society, question your integrity, nor turn the blame back on yourself for actions they have taken. Too many women face some form of abuse in their lifetimes, whether it be physical and/or emotional, by the hands of strangers, casual acquaintances or those that we are supposed to love and trust. Because once that trust is damaged, the world becomes a more difficult place to negotiate.

I know this has become another rant and for that I am sorry. I struggle to come to grips with this breach of trust, this shattered faith in humanity that I hold so dear. I do believe that people are inherently good, but am sad to acknowledge that I feel akin to these women right now. I have never met any CBC personalities, but I knew someone who made me feel like it was my fault that he felt compelled to search my body, clothes and home for evidence of my misdeeds. Like I deserved to be cast as a disreputable woman because his insecurities and jealousy made him look for my guilt. He never found it, but left behind my shattered innocence in the wake of his accusations. He will never admit to his lies or improprieties, so I must move forward and attempt to find faith in humanity knowing that not everyone that smiles is a friend, and not everything that seems a gift is always so.

But this lesson is valuable nonetheless. And I refuse to let the small minority of people that do not understand how their actions affect others rule my world. For I am Canadian, proud, strong and free. I live in a place where men and women give their lives to protect mine. I prefer to see people who take up the cause to make the world a better place and refuse to be bullied by power-hungry individuals who can't see beyond their own noses and backyards. And I rally around women strong enough to stand up and say what is acceptable and what is Not. May you find peace in your release of those ugly memories that should no longer own you.

I am working on mine.

*If you are interested in more of the story that inspired this post, you can read more here...

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Door Knockers & Palm Crossers

local politics
edge of your seat evening
election results
in four years to cut mustard
or shatter beliefs once more

Bye, bye incumbents
hello to new councillors
fresh blood, young faces
may you be the infusion
that London needs to shine bright

London's newest mayor on election night - Matt Brown

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Reading

I sat in the aisle seat
(the better to escape if need be)
Another woman munched a salad
  crunch, crunch, 
at the far end of my aisle.
I was late for the workshop;
the workshop ran late for me.
The poets would be along momentarily.

Frozen in the room lights
I glanced at vibrant scarves
draped limply along drab walls.
They could have been hung
with flair to fill this room
and the voices that would ring
with words

Instead I hid behind
my unbelonging, my newness
that clung to me like
the pinched pins
that suffered the colours
meant to infuse the space,
this gathering of bards

I punched at my phone,
glanced at the empty lectern
and side-eyed my solitary seatmate

til the lights dimmed

And then the words rang out
staccato song
followed by aggrandized soliloquies
pretentious prose that elicited
and awesome thought.

I related,
and clapped along with poetasters alike.

But the house lights cast me aside anew
and I fled.

There was no belonging to the chummy chattering that erupted around me.
No faces to smile into nor laugh with.
No comment on the prose
we were so blessed to consider that night.
Just a cold car,
my single key
and a lonesome home
once more

Will I dare return again?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014




My neighbour died last week. Another neighbour came over to break the news to me. She knew that I would want to hear, as I had always had a soft spot for him. It had been quick. He had gone to hospital Wednesday in distress and died before the day was out. The only thing left to do was schedule the funeral. 

Larry was a sweet old man. He was 90, still lived in his own home, drove his own car, and took care of himself. Another neighbour cut his grass and took care of his pool. Many neighbours brought him over meals, pies, and treats of one sort or another. We always gave him some of whatever we baked. He loved his sweets and appreciated everything that people did for him. From what I could tell everyone liked him. I was sad to hear of his passing.

Today was the funeral. As Larry had been kind to me in days when my grief was most poignant, I felt I needed to go and pay my respects. I had never noticed his family visit much, but the gesture of saying goodbye is an important one to me, so I wanted to go. A visitation was held, followed immediately by the funeral. He was to be interned afterwards. I knew that the internment would be out of the question, as I had to pick the girls up from school, but I planned to attend the other events. 

I drove to the church and said my hellos to the granddaughter that greeted me at the door. Larry was laid out in the next room with a few pictures nestled into the coffin with him. Death is never pretty, as the lifeblood that makes one real flesh and blood leaves the deceased withered and waxy. But I left a tear in his presence nonetheless. I took a seat in a pew off to one side and waited for the funeral to begin. A woman noticed me wipe my eyes though and approached to say hello. She was Larry's niece and looked like she needed a friend to talk to. We shared stories and I was convinced to sit in her aisle with her. Once the pianist played a few songs, the doors of the chapel were closed and the service began.

That is when I should have left.

I have been to many funerals. As much as they are sad affairs, they are held so that people can pay their respects to the deceased. They are an opportunity to start the closure of loss. This funeral was far from respectful though. And it certainly did nothing to honour the memory of the neighbour that I saw as a kindly elderly gentleman who was social, active and friendly with all he met. 

The preacher took to the pulpit and began by reading a letter from the daughter-in-law, who was seated in the front pew. It was awful. Not only did it highlight the ugliness of Larry's final hours, but it cast Larry in a light I never would have imagined. We were told of his mother's young death, then the destitution that followed. His father put him in an orphanage, only to bring him home to a house of alcoholism and poverty. So the story went, it made Larry bitter. And it went on to say that he remained that way for the rest of his life. 

As my fingers dug holes into my palms, I listened to Larry disparaged due to his lack of faith. His son and wife supposedly prayed for him to take Jesus into his heart, to no avail. It was his downfall and left him desperate to fill that whole with material possessions. 

Now it wasn't a secret that Larry had a problem. He was a hoarder. Two years ago he had damage in his home because of flooding. Due to the sheer mountain of stuff in his home the cleanup took the better part of six months. He spent that time living in his trailer out of town. I never heard tell that his son ever offered to put him up during that time. Oh, but they prayed that he would release the devil in his soul! 

Last I heard, hoarding was a mental illness though. Not a reason to castigate someone. Especially not at their funeral. 

There was no mention of what Larry did for a living. No recount of how many years he was married to his wife. Nothing said about his love of dancing. I wanted to pipe up that he was blessed with another romance late in life that was sadly cut short by his fiance's death on the day Larry asked her to marry him. And gee, he was 90 years old, living on his own, still able to walk and drive (not well, but its hard to let go of that independence) and visit with his neighbours when the mood struck him. 

No, we were told that despite Larry having made his family's life miserable for so many years by refusing to take up their faith, they finally won. As Larry lay dying, wracked by painful seizures that apparently terrified him, he finally saw the light. After yet another seizure, he "saw the light" that was Jesus. And then his fear left him. And he died. 

The cynic in me thinks that the tidy summation of Larry's awful existence was probably not exactly accurate. I offer no disrespect to those who have experienced this first-hand, but after listening to all the awful things said, I couldn't stomach the moral of the story - that we all must accept Jesus into our heart or be left to live eternity in hell. No heaven for any disbelievers or sinners. What about Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and others? No Jesus - no heaven.
I wanted to leave. It galled me to sit and listen to them bash this dear man that had helped rake my lawn at the age of 83 years old because he saw me crying in fresh grief with rake in hand over a leaf pile. Local bank tellers had spoken of him in glowing terms for goodness sake. And all they could see was a bitter old man that I am sure they are glad to be rid of.

Well, I made it through the service, despite my seething brain. And tonight I toasted Larry with fellow neighbours that had attended the funeral and were equally shocked by the things said and manner that Larry's death had been handled. We all deserve better than that. As my neighbour said, "they could have just stated facts if they didn't have anything nice to say." But I guess their god lets them feel justified in their ugly actions. I for one want nothing to do with their religion, if it is that judgemental and cold.

... end rant

Monday, October 6, 2014

Life After Life

 Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson, © 2013, Bond Street Books

What if you had life to live all over again? And you were able to learn from the mistakes you made in the first go round? Would you do it all again? Would you try to make a difference for
yourself and the world around you?

Ursula Todd was born on February 11th, 1910. In the middle of a snowstorm, no one comes to the aid of her mother and she dies with the cord wrapped around her neck.

On February 11th, 1910, Ursula Todd is born in the middle of a snowstorm. After a quick scare, she cries to life.

As Kate Atkinson weaves the tale of Ursula's life, we travel through England during a dark time. The world is on the brink of war. Ursula lives only to die at the hands of fate. Repeatedly. After every death, she is born again to do it all over anew, but with subtle twists to extend the story.

Ursula is not untouched by this cyclical life. By the time she reaches puberty, déjà vu plagues her at every turn. Death seems to stalk her, but she learns to outsmart his hand repeatedly. Sometimes whether she wants to or not. Her family notes her odd ways, but it is only Ursula and the reader who see the purpose of it all. And as time marches on that purpose becomes a spectre that many historians would like to see smoted as well.

While I read Ursula's tale, I could not help but think on parts of my own life that could have been changed. Have I lived more than once? Have I danced with death, but picked a safer path this time? If I changed something, would my world look completely different or just slightly askew?

I cannot help but think that there are many lessons to be learned on the path we walk at present. As tempting as it is to go back in time and set things to rights, is that really the right answer? It is an interesting question and one that got Kate Atkinson a Costa Book Award for Novel (2013), plus several literary nominations for awards. I guess that means that a few other people have asked that same question themselves then, doesn't it?

This one is well worth the read in my books!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

To See Further

as the wind blows
as my story goes
people come
and others flow

through my pictures
in my dreams
just fleeting memories
so it seems

one yesterday
and another now
my losses strained
against furrowed brow

they keep adding up
to make me fall
they keep challenging life
leaving behind a dark pall

standing there
you were so strong
you'd gone before me
knew the sad song

grief enough 
to fill my head
you brushed me off
and smiled instead

with old gnarled hand
you reached to me
took up my burden
laid it aside gently

not near so bad
as it did feel
this too shall pass
with more feelings real

for many years 
you strode the path
looked death in the eye
feared not its wrath

but today you lost
your life so sweet
no goodbyes said
from across the street

how do we know 
when our time has come
can you make peace
before the reaper's last drum

Dear Larry is gone
but not forgot
his gift to me
to see further than one aught


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