Sunday, January 31, 2010
Who knows why? Maybe it is because I am a klutz. I cannot throw or catch anything. I can barely stand up on skates and I always look at the downhill trail on my cross country skis with trepidation. I cannot remember the last time that I watched a full game on television. Last year, when the World Junior Hockey was in Ottawa , we had some comp tickets and I went to three games. I must admit that I enjoyed more than I thought I would.
But overall, I do not like sports and this makes me feel treasonous. I guess yesterday was Hockey Day in Canada and the Ottawa Senators won again, which is significant because they have won a record number of games in a row but I don’t care.
The really bad thing is that this attitude goes to the Olympics as well. I hope that Canada wins a hundred Gold Medals. I am for happy the skating cycling woman who will be carrying the flag in for Canada. I absolutely hope that the games go off safely for both athletes and spectators. I am in awe of the skaters, skiers, snowboarders, anybody who stands at the top of a hill and gets down just a touch slower than the pure acceleration due to gravity alone. They have spent thousands of hours of their lives getting ready for this; the 5:00 a.m. wake up is sleeping in I am sure for a lot of them. And I suppose this even includes the curlers, although I must say that I am really in awe, of those in awe, of the curlers.
So why do the Olympics get under my skin? Maybe it is because the athletes are young and talented and I am just envious and jealous. You know the Dog in the Manger – as the ox in the story mutters: “People often begrudge others what they cannot enjoy themselves”
Maybe – but I like to think that I am not so petty. I cannot shake the thought that the Olympics have gotten off the track, badly. A fast food company and a carbonated sugared beverage company are big sponsors. The Canadian Broadcaster of the Games seems to be blurring news and commercials for the event. We as a people want to “Own the Podium” – it is a matter of public policy that Canada is the number one nation when it comes to medal count. Is that really what I want people to think of as me as a Canadian? We aren’t so great at peacekeeping anymore, we cut and paste USA climate change policy, the drinking water at our native reserves is still being worked on, heart disease, dementia, cancer, diabetes, and a few other things are about to send us over the cliff but we , damn it, we are going to win more medals than anyone else. Grandchildren yet to be born will be taught poems about the winter of 2010 at Whistler.
We went quicker than anyone down the hill,
And you dear grandkiddies will foot the bill,
But do not worry about that money stuff,
We have given you other problems enough.
Alright, alright, I likely will start to watch the Opening Ceremonies and start making smart ass comments until my wife tells me to be quiet or leave. And I will watch them quietly and probably like them. And I will find myself captivated by the luge. And maybe you should not phone me during the Curling Final, well because, I am … I am …. I am watching it for a friend.
I just realized that there is a very good chance that I still will be in the hospital during the Opening Ceremonies. God does listen ….. Yikes!!!
Well, I am going to publish the comments I have made for my family of readers to see. God willing, I will still be blogging by the time the Olympics end and it will be interesting to see how much crow I will have to eat.
Saturday, January 30, 2010
Apollo had a twin sister: Artemis. She was the Goddess of the Woodland and the Hunt, but what was she looking for? In Victorian times young maidens would recite a poem:
New Moon, New Moon I hail thee!
By all the virtue in thy body,
Grant me this night that I may see he,
Who my true love is to be.
But they needed a new moon, and this was the full moon. Maybe Artemis was looking for some poor soul who tonight was turning into a Werewolf. The Inuit of Greenland called the moon Annigan. He was nasty, not very nice at all, and maybe Artemis was going to set her hunting companions, the Amazons, on Annigan – that would explain why there is less of him tonight, a day after the full moon.
If you looked closely you would see the Man in the Moon. The Chinese had a name for him – Yue- Laou and he was responsible for drawing men and women together with invisible silken cords. These unbreakable cords would result in marriage, so maybe the Victorian ladies were just passing on this ancient wisdom in their poem.
Indigenous North Americans called this full winter moon the Wolf Moon. Small wonder, one can just imagine the wolves howling at this mid winter’s moon.
Wolves , love , marriage, were all being woven last night. It was stone quiet, no wolves and even the coyotes were not around. The insects and frogs of the spring were still in deep , deep, sleep and any birds that were around were nestled in their nighttime lairs. So there appeared to be no living thing around.
What was that sound? Oh, just the ice shifting on the river. It is so bright, but I wish that the shadows were not so dark. There is no such thing of course as Annigan, right? And the Werewolf is just made up …. right? What if the Amazons mistake me for Annigan. But none of this is real. Oh why, didn’t I take the beagle with me?
Friday, January 29, 2010
A brief quote from the piece:
Dov Seidman, the C.E.O. of LRN, which helps companies build ethical cultures, likes to talk about two kinds of values: “situational values” and “sustainable values.” Leaders, companies or individuals guided by situational values do whatever the situation will allow, no matter the wider interests of their communities. A banker who writes a mortgage for someone he knows can’t make the payments over time is acting on situational values, saying: “I’ll be gone when the bill comes due.”
People inspired by sustainable values act just the opposite, saying: “I will never be gone. I will always be here. Therefore, I must behave in ways that sustain — my employees, my customers, my suppliers, my environment, my country and my future generations.”
Buzz phrases come and buzz phrases go but “situational values” and “sustainable values” is one that has captivated me. Today I bought coffee is a take out paper cup. When I was finished the coffee, I did not turf the cup out the window. That would have been situational. But why did I buy the coffee in a paper cup in the first place? Was that not situational thinking?
It is easy to judge others as being situational or sustainable. I could write all night about the woman who claims to be our member of parliament. It would be easy to talk of praise of men like Abraham Lincoln or women like Rachel Carson. But what about me, am I situational or sustainable?
I am drinking a milk / mango / strawberry / banana / honey smoothie as I write this keeping warm with the propane fireplace. I am sitting at the laptop with two cats keeping me company. The beagle and the black cat are watching Great Expectations in the bedroom with my wife. I am listening one of Otto Klemperer (Colonel Klink’s father – really) recordings of the Beethoven symphonies on the iPod.
Milk – Non Organic but likely relatively local
Mango – Frozen from Mexico
Strawberries – Frozen , self picked, Ottawa Valley Local
Banana – Fresh from Costa Rica
Honey – Ottawa Valley Local
Propane Fireplace – clean burning (except for the greenhouse emissions part but hey, they are GREENhouse)
Pets – Okay they are resource consuming, methane emitting , self centred, non contributing members of the planet but so is the Harper Cabinet so I am not going to pick on them. And the pets keep you warm at night
iPod - Okay, I like it but how long before it ends up in the electronic graveyard? And what do you do with a dead one? Where do you recycle them? Do we do it in Canada, or do we send it to the Third World and have orphans do it?
So, the big mother ship arrives all and all the world’s people are divided in two groups. The situationalists on one side and the sustainablists on the other. If the above were my resume , I think I know where I would end up. Yikes!!!At least I have another thing to work on during my recovery.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Most people likely know the story outline. He is literally on the Road to Damascus, when WHAM!!! – he is knocked off his donkey , falls to the ground, is temporarily blinded and is converted. He wakes up a new man, no longer governed by anger and fear, but ruled by love and hope.
People can have all kinds of takes on this. It is fairy tale nonsense. It is myth that is designed to feed anti-Semitism. It is a word for word historically accurate depiction of something that happened and woe to all that do not believe. Saul had a stroke and spent the rest of his life recovering.
I think what happened was this: Saul was hit by a huge, sudden, dose of empathy. He did not even know what the word meant. He was full of self and hate, and the most compassionate thing that he ever did was watch over the robes of those stoning Stephen. He did not trouble about anything, or anyone, other than himself.
But on that Road to Damascus something happened. He felt everybody’s pain and grief and fear. It was so sudden, and so overwhelming, that it was indeed like a blinding flash of light that was so powerful that it knocked him unconscious. When he came to, he found that this new found pain and grief and fear was actually very empowering. By knowing what someone else was experiencing was to know what had to be done to help them, and to help them, was to love them. And to love them, was to allow you to love God and experience his love for you. That is liberating. It matters not if your religious symbol is a crescent moon, or a star, the outline of a fish, the sun, nothing at all, or even a bar of gold. It applies to everybody.
Haiti, Africa, the streets of the world’s cities, First Nations Reserves, the fisheries of Newfoundland, the poppy fields of Afghanistan ….. the list overwhelms and has no end.. But if we can be hit with a little of Saul / Paul’s bolt of lightning every day, the planet would be so much better.
Monday, January 25, 2010
I really thought that I would run in the Resolution Run. I really thought they could do an angioplasty on me. I really thought I would have had my surgery today, but none of these things happened. So, are these just random acts, like those balls in the 6/49, or is there something more to it? Do things happen for a reason?
My surgery got delayed. That saved my wife from having to drive in the freezing rain. It is going to get a bicycle to Africa, as I would likely not have contacted B4HOttawa yesterday if I was thinking about my bypass being today.
I stepped out of work mode and back into work mode. That was a bit strange: I had my head wrapped around an extended absence after 30 years on the job , and all of a sudden I am phoning my boss up and saying not “I’m baaaack …… but ” I haven’t even leeeeeft” . He was gracious in allowing me to do that. I e-mailed various folks today to let them know that I am still here … sort of. My brain and my soul are not really at the full disposal of my employer. Oh I know, some would say that's normal, but that would not be my take at all.
So where is the ODAAT in that? Maybe the stuff that I am doing is really important, maybe a loose end will be closed off. It really is up to me, isn’t it?
I am not even sure what I am trying to say. I don’t mind the wait, I don’t mind the cancellations. I guess what I mind is the feeling that life is a bit on hold. I can’t really enjoy the winter as I would like, but I am enjoying it much more than someone who is confined to a wheelchair. Or is it a question of vision? Maybe the person in the wheelchair can see what I cannot (or do not want to) see. So maybe all this boils down to vision. The is a term in astronomy called averted vision. If you are looking at the Orion Nebula (M42 for Messier Marathon Wonks) in your Pronto Scope , the best way to see detail is to look a bit to the side of what you want to see, you will see it better. Trust me , it works.
So, maybe my best vision is to look a bit to the side of what I think the issue is. Cancellation of Surgery, look to the side, a bike gets to Africa.
I think that the proroguing of Parliament is an outrage, I look to the side and join the Facebook Page, and voila, there are 25,000 people demonstrating . (full disclosure – I did not join because of my delicate condition)
Averted Vision - I learn something every day.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Did you hear the one about the three guys put in charge by the boss while he was on sabbatical? It is a tale told by Jesus Christ himself. (you can look it up in Luke 19 or Matthew 25 for the more biblical versions) Seems this landowner guy is going on a trip and is going to be gone for a while. He gives each of his top guys a gold coin.
( or 10 minas or some sort of cash package – it doesn’t matter). The gig away sucks so he comes back and asks for an accounting.
First Guy – Your Munificence, I have increased the value ten fold!
Second Guy – Your Benevolence, I have increased the value five fold!
Third Guy – I was very careful and frugal and in fact buried the original funding under the old oak tree and here it is , every last cent and ….
Boss – You Big Dummy!! If I wanted zero return I would have bought Canada Savings Bonds!! You are going downstairs to the Eight Track Dungeon and you are not coming out until you have cataloged all the K Tel stuff!!!
Okay, I do think that I have updated the story a tad but here is my take. God gets really pissed off at people who get gifts and do nothing with them. My surgery is deferred but I have committed to doing one small thing.
The logo above is for Bicycles for Humanity. They assemble bikes and ship bikes to Africa (current project is Malawi). A bike in Ottawa is sent to Africa – it gets there and it becomes a soccer mom van, a first responder vehicle, a school bus, a delivery van, a courier truck, a Springsteen Cadillac. Pretty Simple Stuff.
My first planned payback- I commit three bucks for each day, from the day of my operation to the first day I am back on my bike, to the Ottawa Chapter of Bicycles for Humanity
Friday, January 22, 2010
But I still have a good pre-op.
0810 – show up at University of Ottawa Heart Institute and register
0820 – Go for X-Ray. Learn difference between left and right
0835 – Go for cardiogram
0845 – Go to give 3 vials blood samples
0915 – Meet Cardiac Surgeon. Go over the benefits (longer life, better life) and risks (agonizing, painful, unquenchable anguish leading to death). Decide to go with former and sign consent. Find out that my left arm will donate arteries ( or is it veins ?). Anyway, left arm will donate something and find out that I have an extra one. (blood flow thing – not left arm) God must have been thinking when we were in beta. Find out that Cardiac Surgeon is on call weekend before my operation. Relieved to hear that he will not operate on me if he is up all night on transplant.
1000 – Coffee Break at Hospital Tim Horton’s. We do not want to give up parking spot so we hang at the hospital. Have nice conversation with man from Halifax in the Smoking Cessation Business.
1130 – Lunch at Hospital – Low fat, low salt carrot soup and low fat low salt tuna sandwich (on white bread – what is that all about?)
Noon – check voice mail at home, message to call triage nurse at Ottawa Heart Institute
12:15 – go see triage nurse, told that my procedure is delayed; I think they felt worse than me
1300 – Pre Admission. Meet Nurse Helen where I am ……
Weighed and Measured
Told how to do the pre-op showers (four days in a row with two soap pads, one for belly button south and one for belly button north)
Pre–op mouthwash – four times the day before
Swabs – Nurse Helen does my nostrils – I do my own bum
Lessons on how it will be on waking (tubes, tubes, tubes, and wires, already described in earlier blog)
Meet the Anesthesiologist - “We will put a cannula over needle device in which the flexible plastic cannula is mounted on the trocar and once these are located in the vein we hit you on the head with a big mallet and you are out for the count.” Those were almost his exact words – certainly he said the mallet part. He was funny and professional and put me at great ease. He told me that he had his training in the USA , at a Top Gun hospital and that he thinks there is no better place than the University of Ottawa Heart Institute. I believe him.
Back to Nurse Helen to get a lesson in getting in and out of chairs and bed. I thought that an “incorrect” move would receive a reminder notice of pain. That is not always the case and yet you can damage yourself, without knowing it. That was likely the scariest notice of the day but Nurse Helen assured me that the lesson would be repeated many times. My wife and I had the full attention of Nurse Helen for the afternoon. She was professional, smart, compassionate, thorough, funny, and we knew we were in the right place.
1515 – We are free to go, we have no more questions
1520 – We are stopped by Nurse Helen in the lobby (she bolted down the back stairs). She figured out that they needed more blood samples from me. I told you I was in the right place.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
But Kate and her sister did something very Canadian: The Log Driver’s Waltz. If this does not make you smile and make you proud, nothing will.
Monday, January 18, 2010
From Dumb Me : the wiki link
I do wonder how long the wiki links will last?
Note to self: Search Youtube for funny kitty cat videos and post
Vaughan William: Symphony No. 5
Bach: Double violin concerto
Beethoven: Symphony No. 7
Beethoven: Symphony No. 9
Mozart: Symphony No. 41
Bernstein: West Side Story
Gorecki: Symphony No.
Copland: Appalachian Spring
Barber: Violin Concerto
Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 1
Shostakovich: Piano Concerto No. 2
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5
Shostakovich: Cello Concerto No. 1
R. Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier
R. Strauss: Four Last Songs
Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet
Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3
Who knows what will be on my mind that day – today I have other thoughts.
I missed lunch today and we had salmon for dinner. I was hungry and the salmon was a bit on the fatty side. But since I was hungry I reverted to a bad old habit and I beagled (new word based on wolfed) the thing down. So I felt, after the meal, a bit bloated. Was it just a bit of light indigestion or my heart? The things that I now consider.
I took the beagle out for a walk. He is stubborn, self absorbed, has a narrow agenda, and likes to pull to the right. He is just like the woman who claims to be our Member of Parliament except he has charm and dislikes firearms. Walking him is becoming a bit of a chore. I love walking but I have to be careful and not run and get silly and neither he nor I like that. The things that I now consider.
I am reading now a lot, maybe a bit too much, which sounds like crazy talk except that reading involves a lot of sitting on the butt. I just finished a very long book by Elizabeth Kostova : The Historian. I read the book of my own free will, it was long and rambling, going through time, Eastern Europe, Turkey, Vampires and circular discrete convolutions of the written word (and of course there is no such thing). It was a potato chip book, a bit like da Vinci Code. Not to destroy the story for anyone reading this book but things would have been better if Dracula had crossed paths with Melvil Dewey back in the 1880s . The things that I now consider.
I now have a spiritual advisor, Father Jack, a Catholic priest who has spent time in India in Ashrams. What enlightenment has he given me? He has taught me to breathe, for one thing. Simple yoga exercises to open up my lungs and airways for the trauma they are about to suffer. Simple Mediation: he spent weeks and weeks, ten hours a day, concentrating on breathing – he says it brought tears to his eyes. For me it is a bit simpler: When I get back from surgery I can meditate on breathing – air in, and air out, air in, and air out. Think about nothing else. There is no pain. There is no outside world. There is no music. You are just doing the gift of life itself – air in and air out. I am learning that prayer is more about listening than talking (a real stretch for me) and I have become a fan of Fr Richard Rohr. I called Fr Jack a spiritual advisor – Fr Jack is more of a spiritual questioner. The things that I now consider.
At Christmas time I blogged that I had elected to give some money to the Salvation Army instead buying an iGizmo (could have been the iKindle !!) . Good thing I did that and also signed up for the monthly contributions, as they sure need the cash in Haiti. I just, moments ago, found out that a very good friend of mine is flying to Santo Domingo tomorrow and then on to Port au Prince. His job has him there for a week at least. He says that he will be fine. He will be careful. He will not be in the most dangerous areas. It is not a war zone. I see aftershocks. I see Warlord Blade leading 3000 escaped criminals. I see the one bug the inoculations did not guard against. The things that I now consider.
The main thing that I really think about is my good fortune and how things have lined up for me. There is the mechanical part, the getting fixed part of course, and that is core. But even better is the love of family and friends. I just got off the phone with a lady who told me to keep my chin up, get help if I need it , and think positive thoughts. She had a ‘bad go a few years ago', but she got over it. Apologetically she added that the "few years ago" was when she was younger. She has had to concede that age does play a role. She is now 94 and her last bad go was when she was just 88….. I get so many lessons each day I can barely keep track. The things that I now consider.
Sunday, January 10, 2010
But with my surgery coming in just over two weeks I am starting to appreciate the freedom and ability that I will, at least for a while (I hope!!), be ceding. I went for a walk today. I put on my boots, coat, gloves, and hat effortlessly and with no thought. I opened the door easily and stepped off the porch and along the sidewalk and then onto the road. One step after another – no struggle, no deliberation. I had my Nordic Walking poles and I was as coordinated as I ever am with the things.
The red squirrels scolded me for no seed being in the bird feeder and the chickadees and finches just glared. Step, swing, step, swing, step, swing. It was minus 12 C with no wind so I was more than comfortable in my down parka. The snow was Wenceslas Snow: laying roundabout – deep and crisp and even. Well not even because the wind of the last few days made the snow in the fields look like waves on the beach. (except for the fact the waves were not moving and were white and not blue) The white was television commercial clothing detergent white – bright, bold, sparking, glaring, jarring, blinding, florescent, glowing white – in fact one could say the snow was snow white.
And on I went; step, swing, step, swing, step , swing. Walking is amazing. It gets you from point A to point B. There is no out of pocket expense, the strain on the environment is minimal, you consume few carbon fuels, and you do not need a license. The view is breathtaking. There are no General Motors designed blind spots; there is no need for a window seat and the worry if you got the one on the better side. When you have to stop, you just stop. ABS brakes are not needed and neither is traction control ( as a bit of a sidebar – traction control is sometimes needed a little and I swear by my Yaktrax, thank you Santa, and what the hell – it is my blog so I will demean myself to a commercial link - http://www.yaktrax.com/).
I only walked a few kilometers but enough to climb a hill and look at The River that actually froze up on Friday night. The River looked like she was at peace. No boat could of course venture on it, and only the most foolhardy pedestrian or snowmobiler would try the ice. I have spent many, many hours on the water as a kayaker, snowshoer, or skier, but somehow letting her rest for at least a few weeks a year seems so right and proper.
Walking up the hill was easy and so was the trip down. I walked closer to the river’s edge, saw some fresh work by the river beavers, and looked at a hole they were trying to maintain. It was effortless and painless to breath. One of my spiritual advisors advised me to really concentrate on breathing, doing stretches, and getting my lungs in shape for the wounded sternum that is yet to come. I sort of half enthusiastically did that, the lazy, denying part of my brain telling me that it is not such a big deal.
But it is a big deal. Going for a walk is a big deal. Smelling and seeing and sensing winter is a big deal. In fact it is a valuable commodity and gift. If nothing else, as I am going through this journey, I am getting the eyes to see what is of value.
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
- The Ascent of Man by Jacob Bronowski
- Civilization by Kenneth Clarke
- The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers by Paul Kennedy
- The Clash of Civilizations by Samuel P. Huntington
- The Sweet Enemy by Robert and Isabelle Toombs
- God and Gold by Robert Russell Mead
- Lenin's Tomb by David Remnick
- The Defeat of the Spanish Armada by Garrett Mattingly
- Easier Fatherland: Germany and the Twenty First Century by Steve Crawshaw
- John Maynard Keynes by Robert Sidelsky
- Churchill by Roy Jenkins
- Truman by David McCullough
- The Defeat of the Spanish Armada by Garrett Mattingly
- The Meaning of Everything by Simon Winchester
Aarrgghh!!! I am having a bypass!!!! Aarrgghh!!! It will hurt. It could kill me!!!! Aarrgghh!!!! Deep breath, shallow breath, deep breath, shallow breath …..
Whew, that is better. My plan is to have this surgery only once, not a thousand times but once in a while I have these little flights of panic but they pass. Here is a list of things that help:
Rubbing a beagle’s nose
Scratching a tabby cat’s belly.
Carrying a black cat while you rub his toes.
Scuffing a mainly white with orange patches cat’s ears.
Letting a calico cat nuzzle your hand.
Walking against the wind and then coming inside to warm yourself by the fireplace.
Listening to Christmas Music for almost the last time until December 1st, 2010. (I refuse to count what I hear in the malls before that)
Eating 80% cacao chocolate
Watching your wife Google.
Drinking Moroccan Mint Tea.
Opening the mail box and seeing no bills.
Having neighbours stop you on the street and telling you that they will help you with anything.
Having the mayor tell you that she will be checking in on you.
Gratitude that the University of Ottawa Heart Institute does not prorogue.
Being able to send a three imposition e-mail to friends and not worry.
I feel so much better. It is good, I think, to panic a bit, in fact a good panic is exhilarating, sort of a Edmund Hillary / Tenzing Norgay thing. But at the end of that it is not to return to the good old Serenity Airfield and do this one day at a time.
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Mary Ann Shaffer
The Trust Estate of Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
No sooner then I finished Every Man Dies Alone when I was obliged to jump into my book club book : The Guernsey Literary Society and Potato Peel Pie Club. I have a small and narrow mind so my natural inclination would have been to avoid this book. It is Chick Lit. It is Mass Marketed Lit. It is Book Club Lit. But thank SOAPE that even a mind matched only in narrowness by my coronary arteries, was expanded by the muses of my book club.
Guernsey Literary Society and Potato Peel Pie Club takes place in the aftermath of World War II. Somewhere in my brain I was dimly aware that the Channel Islands that belonged to the British were occupied by the Germans during the war. The book is a work of fiction in the form of correspondence (snail mail we call it today) from a author Juliet Ashton to her publisher, her “old” friends and “new” friends that she makes on Guernsey. The wartime occupation is recounted in the letters and this ranges from the funny (how the Guernsey Literary Society and Potato Peel Pie Club was formed to the tragic (the desperation of a Polish slave worker that leads to horrendous consequences to those that showed mercy on him)
The same thoughts that I had while reading Every Man Dies Alone sprung into to my mind. Would I be an informer to attain favour from my occupiers? Would put my money on the Germans being there forever so I should back the winning side? Would I hide my extra rations? Or would I risk all to stand up for truth and the right thing? I don’t know and I am too much of a coward to want to find out.
Every Man Dies Alone gets more intense with the turning of every page; there is no rest, no lightness, the descent accelerates and there is no turning back. Even ceasing the read would leave a hole in you. The Guernsey book is more like being in water that is too deep at times for your comfort level but sandbars let you take a break and enjoy the ocean. And there is a cabana on the beach.
The most incredible part of the book for me: Mail that is posted in London on a given day gets there to your London recipient the same day and you receive the answer later the same day. Now that really must have been the authours’ imaginations gone wild!
Saturday, January 2, 2010
Every Man Dies Alone
By Hans Fallada
first published in 1947
English Edition 2009
Mellville House Publishing
A book as cheerful as the title sounds. Berlin, early in the Second World War: Germany is flush with the thrill of victory over France. Victory over England is at the time and whim of the Fuhrer. But a letter is delivered to Otto and Anna Quangel. Their only son, Otto, has died a hero’s death for Fuhrer and Fatherland.
Unlike the Persickes, their Nazi, Hitler-loving neighbours, the Quangels know there is no glory or honour in Otto’s death - just sorrow and blackness. So they embark on a quiet campaign of writing and dropping post cards that offer simple messages in public places. The first one is typical of the remainder:
Mother! The Fuhrer has murdered my son. Mother! The Fuhrer will murder your sons too, he will not stop until he has brought sorrow to every house in the world.
Retyping this in 2010 seems almost banal, the words are not particularly powerful or interesting. But of course in Berlin of 1940, writing the words was a death sentence.
The story tells of the dropped cards, the horror of those who found the cards, the search by the Gestapo for the writers, the petty informers, the common thieves, the desperation and fear of the people, the guilt, the arrogance of the elite, the compassion and bravery of the few.
The Quangels are the heroes of the book but they are nothing like the heroes of Hollywood. They know their fate before they start and in the end still accept all that they must endure before their deaths. The book really shows the success of the Nazis. By creating a society that runs on fear, the informants are like starving dogs and will do anything for the smallest scrap. Goons and bullies rise to the top like witches cream in the devil’s dairy. Decency, fairness, compassion, truth, integrity, and anything vaguely good are as rare as a blossom in the January snow.
The thing that really makes me uncomfortable is how I would fare in that place at that time. Would I have the courage to be an Otto Quangel and swim against the stream despite the continual risk and danger? Would I be like Judge Fromm and be unflinching from the high standards that have governed my life so far and not let a new order change them? Or would I be like young Baldur Persicke who embraces every evil as the new normal and the only way to get ahead? Or maybe I would be the bottom feeding rat that does anything to anybody just to live another day? I do not know the answer and likely do not want to know the answer.
This book was written by someone who was there and I have no reason to think that this work of fiction , based on actual Gestapo files, is not a realistic picture of the way things were. If this book has a lesson, it is that we must do everything to avoid descending into the world described. It would be nice to think that that is impossible, but as we move into a future of reduced resources, radicalization of religion, nationalism, and willingness to have our lives monitored, it is not the time to reduce our vigilance.
In summary – a dire, depressing, great read.
Friday, January 1, 2010
I had asked for a listing of books and here they are so far. I have a wonderful range of tastes in my friends. (Two Years Before the Mast, Moby Dick, and Caine Mutiny I added myself - hey I am my own friend after all)
2-A Team of Rivals
Doris Kearns Goodwin
3-The Invisible Man
4-Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Robert Lewis Stevenson
5-The Time Machine
Edgar Rice Burroughs
7-A Tale of Two Cities
8-The Count of Monte Cristo
10-A Good House
11-Walking Since Daybreak
12-Gold Compass Trilogy
13-The Twilight Series (Vampire Books)
14-Tao of Pooh
Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt
17-Two Years Before the Mast
Richard Henry Dana, Jr
18-The Caine Mutiny
19-The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-Time
20-The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
23-The Listening Book – Discovering Your Own Music.
But Nature is a harsh mistress. The front yard was festooned with little clumps of feathers. Very likely the hawk had , in a fell swoop, snagged one of the chickadees. As McDuff said:
All my pretty ones?
Did you say all?
O hell-kite! All?
What, all my pretty chickens and their dam
At one fell swoop?
Our hell-kite was not so all devouring. The rest of the chickadee flock was at the feeders. Our feeders do indeed feed a wide swath of animals, including the red squirrels.
Last night was New Year’s Eve and we attended a pot luck with some friends between seven and nine. That was good fun and the only “problem” was trying to decide what to do with the excess food. It is so wonderful to have that as a concern. What most of the world’s population would not do to have that to worry about. I had one of those coincidence / god incidence moments where I was suddenly given vision of something I was only meant to see that night. If there are readers out there reading this I know that sounds like gibberish but it makes sense to me and I need it to be part of the record.
We then went to a party at one of our neighbours. It was a small gathering and again there was a coincidence / god incidence moment where my wife figured out that one our neighbours had a sister who my wife had worked with years ago. Clearly a night of eyes opened. We stayed there to welcome in 2010 and then went home, off to bed and then to wake up to the day.
2010 – a New Year. In 25 days I will have had (subject to the possibility of change) my surgery. I am looking forward to it and just hope that I have the strength and soul and intelligence to fulfill my obligation to my healers, my caregivers and myself. I really have been thinking about the parable where the landowner goes on an extended journey and gives a gold coin to each of three servants. I am sure all know the story: Servant I turns his Gold Coin into something like 10 Gold Coins, Servant II turns his allotment into 5 coins, but the third guy just buries his coin. He doesn’t hear the end of that!
So, here is my single New Year’s resolution. To NOT bury this great gift I am getting but to do all that I can with it. Here’s looking at my self ……