Saturday, January 29, 2011

I am 55 years old and today went tobogganing at the neighbour’s house. What a blast! The air temperature was a balmy minus eight. The wind was almost still so the infamous wind-chill was not even on the weather chart figuratively or literally. The sun was hidden behind cloud yet even at three thirty in the afternoon was still high enough to allow its warmth to be felt just a little. There is not a huge amount of snow on the ground this year, especially for very late January but we were graced last night with about 5 cm of fresh light snow on the ground.
At 55 I was amongst the youngest of the crowd but the gang that I was hanging with had learned, among the many several centuries of life lessons that it is okay to have fun. My toboggan was not really a toboggan but a China made Bat Saucer. It is black and slick and looks like something that Bruce Wayne would have has as a kid. It unfortunately was a bit slow: I only got to speed when I borrowed the Orange Demon. But no matter – I got snow during a gentle crash up my nose and down my chest. There is nothing like frozen snow melting on your hot heaving chest to bring you back to your childhood.
My hosts had a fireplace on the deck and the warmth of the fire, the warmth of the sun, and the heat generated on the uphill walk by your body made the day almost Jamaican. Of course looking over and out from the deck and seeing a frozen Madawaska River made it look Jamaica New York City but matter – it was still terrific.
My wife missed the sledding but showed up for pot luck supper. (she had to work). Ten neighbours, two loaves, one pot of beans, one pot of pork chilli, one pot of meatballs, one coleslaw, one potato salad, one fruit crisp, one tub of ice cream. We live in blessed times to have such a surplus, of food, fun, and friends.

Friday, January 28, 2011

There are few narratives in the Christian Scriptures that compel me more to thought than the story of the conversion of Saul to Paul.

Acts of the Apostles Chapter 22

About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’
‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked.
‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.
What shall I do, Lord?’ I asked.
“ ‘Get up,’ the Lord said, ‘and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.’ My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me.

Some people explain this to me a fact of history and then use it as a test of worthiness: If you believe this exactly as written you are worthy. You are either hot or cold, you are either a believer or not a believer, you are either worthy or unworthy. Not that I should let what others think trouble me, but I find this explanation and understanding very sad. I find that it belittles what to me is a great and wonderful lesson.

Saul of Tarsus of Cilicia was a man of great power and prestige and presumably wealth. He was at the top of the heap in the Jewish hierarchy and at the same time a Roman Citizen. I can relate to him – I am a citizen of Canada and am amongst the wealthiest elite that the planet has ever known in terms of the resources that I consume. As I write this I am sitting by a warm fire drinking hot apple cider. I am getting warm after going for my outdoor exercise wearing a pair of $145 running shoes and all kinds of fancy layered and reflective pieces of clothing. I took my sourdough starter out of the refrigerator and am creating a sponge for bread that I need tomorrow for a toboggans party. My wife and I are looking at getting a new car. All this while people in Tunisia and Egypt are being brutalized. I have a lot in common with Saul of Tarsus of Cilicia

Yet he changed. Or I think more correctly, he was willing to change, and he was willing to learn. If you have quarrel with what I say, read the text again. No one forced him to go on to Damascus; he did it of his own free will. And he further was told that he would be taught what he had to do. It is also compelling that his companions saw the light but did not know what was happening. Or was it that they just were not listening?

Last year I wrote that Saul became Paul when he was hit by a flash of empathy and I still think that to be true but not the whole story. I think that Paul, when he heard the voice of Jesus heard the voice of all humanity. Humanity was telling him that he was not connected, that he was a taker and not a giver, that he, worse of all was not even alive. The Conversion of Paul is the story of how we are only alive and have worth if we are connected to humanity. That is what Christ taught in all those parts of the Bible that are in red ink. I am not capable of interpreting it in any other way.

Which brings this back to me. Why am I so afraid of Paul and desire to remain Saul?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Minus 30 C , no wind, a cup of boiling water is flung towards the stars and as the power of gravity stops that journey even before it starts the savage chill of the air crystallizes the water droplets into a thousand little balls of ice that try to return to the centre of the earth, only to be stopped by the frozen ground. And people say you can't have fun with a kettle and bad prose.

(The thrower in the picture is my wife and the savage chill of the night air was not as savage as it could have been. Next cold snap she will know to toss "up and out" as opposed to just up. Some of the water splashed on here and luckily it had chilled from scalding and boiling to just very hot. I had the good grace and good sense not to snicker)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

In the Christian calendar Advent is the period or a time a time of expectant waiting and preparation. It comes the four weeks before Christmas and of course is used, ideally as a period of contemplation and preparation for whatever Christmas means to a person.
But for me January of 2010 (a year ago of course) was my time of anticipation. As the year started I was anticipating surgery on the 25th of January. I was trying to maintain an attitude of positive thinking and gratitude which I do think was there. In reflection a year later I can say that it was there positive thinking and gratitude there indeed but there was also a great deal of self-centred thinking there as well. In fact, on reflection, I think that SCT – self-centred thinking was the dominant theme that ran my brain.
So, a year later as I reflect on the Month of Anticipation I wonder SCT – Self-Centred Thinking , maybe it can be my contribution to the world … maybe, just maybe, I will get to be on the Dr. Chubby Guy with A Mustache Show (I am having a brain vacation here, I know that Dr. Oz is the guy my cardiologist can’t stand but I am thinking of the other guy)
On the airplane they always tell you to grab and don your oxygen mask before your child’s, your spouse’s, or anybody else’s: Why? Well, the answer is simple; if you are not breathing immediately after the catastrophic need to take emergency measures to do so, you are in deep, deep, deep, trouble. And you will not be able to help anyone else. Period.
So, if one is facing something, like open heart surgery you really have to put First Things First and practice SCT. SCT means:

1 -Acknowledging that you don’t have the Power
2-Accepting that you can cry
3-Accepting that you can laugh
4-Asking for help
5-Insisting on help
6-Being okay with dying
7-Planning on not dying
8-Losing embarrassment of anything to do with your body or body functions
9-Holding a cat for longer than he wants to be held
10-Walking the dog to the river when he would rather go up the road
11-Reading Anne of Green Gables and nor caring who knows
12-Saying no and meaning it
13-Laughing, giggling, guffawing, and not worrying when stuff come out your nose
14-Not worrying whenever stuff comes out your nose
15-Realizing the Plan and Blueprint are big and your part is no more or less important than any other
16-If the Universe and the Power are infinite then you are at the Centre of the Universe and at the Centre of the Power

Self Centred Thinking – SCT

(oh, the Dr. Chubby Guy with A Mustache Show would be Dr. Phil)

Friday, January 21, 2011

I forced myself to go to the funeral home yesterday. Not too many people I know relish going to funeral homes and I was not really that close to the deceased. He was a comparatively young man, only 48 and he lived by himself and was very much a loner. I really knew nothing about him except to say hello to him on the street which I not done for over a year as I simply had not seen him. Yet we had spent a bit of time together as we dealt with a common disease. Since I had not even seen him for that 12 months we could not be called friends. He never called me and I never called him, I didn’t know if he even had a phone so I advised him on nothing and he advised me on nothing.
My first thought was just to go to the viewing. He had a bit of family there; turns out he had a sister and brother who were local and a sister who lived in New Brunswick. He was also an uncle. I was one of a very few people that were there and a quickly navigated the reception line. I really had nothing to say to them other than a mumbled condolence but they smiled and offered their thanks.
There was a slide show video set up in a corner. These days some funerals have video montages of hundreds of slides and carefully orchestrated music. Here there were only about 20 pictures. Him dancing his mom. Him as a young man. Him wading in the Atlantic. Him pretending he was a pilot. Simple, back to basics pictures; no pretentions, no false posing, some goofy, all loving.
I decided to stay for the service. While I was waiting for the service to start I was sort of lounging with some other people in the area of the cremation urn. Suddenly a little white dog came careening out of nowhere and ran from mourner to mourner. It took a while to corral the critter but no one seemed at all offended. The dog was just wanting to spread a little joy in the hearts of those of us there, he certainly meant no harm and certainly did not suffer from false pretence. I smiled and looked at the urn and thought how an urn can contain the ashes but not the spirit.
The service was short. There were only 50 of us there. The minister gave all the usual readings and the reasons for hope. I learned that this gentle giant loved gardens and even kept a balcony garden. I learned that he loved animals and that the request had been made to make donations to the local animal shelter in his memory. I kept thinking of the little white dog and how death cannot keep the spirit down.
I have often thought that I don’t want to be in heaven with most of the people that say they are going to heaven. But if this man goes, I want to join him. The splash he made on the world was small. He consumed hardly any of the economic pie. He like did not know what the latest shoe style was and he did worry about matching shirts and ties because he did not own a tie. He did not die in the arms of his beloved: He died on the floor by himself. But the joyous little dog knew the truth. The man who died was my friend and I did not even know it. He had the wealth of spirit. He was not drunk with consumption. He gave far more than he had. If indeed by some angelic mix up in the paper work I at least get to see the gates of heaven, I know that there will be at least one person that I knew on this earth in the upper echelons of the afterlife. I have been blessed knowing him here.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Minus 16 C, and a bit of a wind from the North West: My wife’s sciatica is flaring up so she has an excuse. The Beagle says “Listen, I am a short haired opportunistic scavenger with cute dangling ears. I have been outside and done what you so euphemistically refer to as number one and number two. I can work you like a string puppet show in The Sound of Music. But given the choice of laying alongside a warm fire or stomping through the snow, I the Dumb Animal will lay by the fire” (Beagles are so dramatic)
So it was off by myself for my work out walk. The snow was newly fallen, about 6 centimetres or so, and the texture was a bit like the foam of white water; it was neither liquid, solid, or gas but had a translucence and texture that seemed transient. When I stepped through it the snow would faintly protest with an audible crunching groan and where I had stepped, the texture totally changed leaving behind very distinct Sorel tracks. In an ordinary year I would have left snowshoe or ski tracks but not yet this year. But I was not the only critter that had been in the Valley since the overnight snow stopped. Little voles or mice, rabbits, and likely a deer had made tracks as well.
This time the silence of last week of last week was replaced by a murmuring of wind. It really was white noise as the snow was reflecting the sun back towards the blue sky with full vigour which made the snow brighter and whiter than the backside of Gabriel himself. (NB – I have seen plenty of angels, the UOHI is full of them, but not the Big Guys like Michael or Gabriel so it is an assumption on my part their posteriors are very white - also note the joke ASSumption – get it?) . Anyway, the snow was white and the wind was murmuring and the whole thing was very peaceful.
Well, peaceful but cold; I had to move briskly. I looked at the snowmobile tracks that reached out boldly onto the frozen Madawaska and was tempted to follow but did not. There is word that there still is lots of water in Bark Lake up in the Algonquin Highlands and that this water is still making its way to the Ottawa River via the frozen River that was tempting me to tread on it. That means that beneath the serenity of the ice there are conflicts and issues and resentments and ….. well there is active water at least. I will leave river walking for another day.
On the way back I am walking into the wind. It is not a particularly harsh wind but it does caress my face into a benign numbness. I trudge the road more briskly.
So I make my way home to a warm fireplace , mint tea, and a sleeping beagle. I am sure this is my imagination but he seems to open one eye and then a look of glee illuminates his face. I am not sure if he is glad that I am home or he is just glad that he did not join me.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Today I walked in the valley just behind our house. I did not walk alone, and I am not counting the spiritual beings and powers that no doubt walk every step with me. My wife and The Beagle walked with me today.

That luxury, at least the valley part, did not exist a year ago. I was in anticipation of my coronary bypass, sticking nitro patches on my above-the-waist body, and carrying a little spray bottle of nitro-glycerine as well – just in case. It would be unfair and inaccurate to say that walking for me was forbidden but walking 500 + meters off any beaten path in a valley would have made me and those who loved me nervous, so I chose not to do it then.

But a year later things are different. I am enjoying the Gift of Life. So today, a Saturday, was a day of light snow. We slept in; all of us - my wife, me, The Beagle and all four cats. Then I was lucky enough to make breakfast. I layered strawberry yogurt in the bottom of a large clear glass cup and positioned a floor of raw almonds above that layer. Then I cooked up porridge of steel cut oats softened with some large flake oatmeal and some Cream of Wheat and carefully built that up as the top stratum. It was a nice treat that made me thankful for having the resources to make this, the spare time to be able to think of this, the frivolity to have fun with breakfast, the teachings of my dietitian to make something healthy, and the blessing to be able to share the meal with my spouse.

Fortified with food we hit the trail: Originally we had thought of snowshoeing but there is insufficient snow on the ground for that, but no matter, we just plain walked. Well not really plain walked, as The Beagle came along on his extended clothesline leash. It was about -8 C with a light wind and constantly powdering of snow, as if the Great Baker herself was finishing off some cupcakes with a light dusting of fine sugar.

The walking was easy but the doggy wanted to follow the path least direct. He sees little point in the straight line, along a path. He sees and smells what the rest of us pay no heed to at all, so the walk was meandering, stopping many times for him to half bury his head in the snow to look or sniff for something. We saw abandoned birds' nests not 4 feet from the ground. At first blush one thinks that this a silly place to build a nest, but a nest in the middle of a thicket of hawthorn bushes in the height of summer is a Fortress Mighty. There are also what my wife and I call the Condos. Trees that no longer flower or leaf but still stand tall. Guys (both winged and unwinged) dig holes in the softening wood. Picture a raging blizzard and you are in a wooden cave, a few woodshavings help insulate the space and you puff up your feathers and fur and fall into a deep, deep, slumber. Maybe most humans would prefer a night at the Holiday Inn Express but the critters don’t add to climate change with what they do.

The valley that we trudged is a wet land much of the summer so we were walking on snow covered ice a lot of the time. The cattails stood tall, brown, and proud and barely wavered in the wind. A lot of the seed heads were still there and were acting like a catcher’s mitt for the snow; it was like there was a contest of who could be whiter and fluffier, the seeds of autumn or the newly caught snow.
And so the walk went, up, down, stop, go, to the left, to the right, forwards, backwards. Snow falls silently and in fact, acts like a big acoustic sponge so there was no extraneous sound. There was no one in the universe except for The Beagle, my wife, the snow, the valley, and the sound of our footfalls. And I could not be happier or more grateful.