Sunday, September 25, 2016

Outside or Inside the Cup?

Old Order Mennonites at the St Jacobs, Ontario Horse Auction

The monthly horse auction was held on the grounds of our large farmers’ market yesterday. I drove up in the early afternoon to get some apples and noticed more Old Order Mennonites around than usual before I remembered that it was the last Saturday of the month. In our region we hardly look twice when we pass a horse and buggy on the roadway. General stores in the surrounding towns and villages sell hats, suspenders, and dress materials that identify members of our Old Order communities. Our neighbourhood in the city is home to an increasing number of Moslem and Sikh families. They too are easily identified by their clothing styles. 

Toronto Hipsters
We have a natural tendency to quickly judge people by their outward appearance and gravitate toward those who look most like ourselves.  My high schools did not enjoy much ethnic diversity in the 1960s and 70s, but we knew how to sight a “hoodlum” or a “hippie”. Today’s hipsters are identified by their facial hair, plaid shirts, skinny pants, footwear and lifestyle choices. Tattoos and piercings are trendy right now even though I shudder think what they will look like on crepey 80 year old skin in the future. 

I have learned that you cannot judge a book by its cover. Inner character takes more time to assess. I am reading a book that was a 1913 best seller called “The Inside of the Cup” by American author, Winston Churchill. The title is based on Matthew 23:26 where Jesus says, 

"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.” 

It is hard to believe the book is over 100 years old as the themes are so current. The exterior is often a poor representation of the true inner person. 

Recently, I was helping a nurse provide morning care to one of our patients with dementia. We were assailed with an angry torrent of racist, sexist and other crude language as well as attempts to hit, scratch and punch. Frontal lobe function does diminish with age-related brain atrophy and dementias but other patients remain sweet and kind in their confusion. From my non-scientific observations, the inner person will be revealed eventually. Hidden anger, anxiety, fear, racism, greed and hatred is uncovered when social graces diminish. Conversely, an inner character marked with love, patience, generosity and acceptance of others does not diminish with age. In this internet age, the outer appearance is hidden, but words and ideas identify the tribe. It is a challenge to wade through the rhetoric but we must check the source and context before we pass judgement.

A contact of mine posted a picture of the church bulletin where he attended today.  

Tribal markings will always exist but it is worthwhile to assess the inside first, starting with ourselves. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Scars and Tenacity

Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire

She is the same age as me and has been a patient at the hospital for over 100 days. We walked outside in the late summer sunshine as she shared her story. Whether all the details were exactly true or not doesn’t matter as past memories are easily distorted by emotion and time. 

“I have gone through life with a pickaxe, pulling myself up a rock face,” she said. 

Above average intelligence, education, and good looks did not smooth the scarring from abusive relationships, years of mental and physical illness, job loss and community disconnection. Life was a struggle but she was still fighting to make it to the summit. She talked about life “outside the village” and her “misfit” faith which was not understood in any church she had attended.   

I marvelled at her insight and her inability to find an easier route on her journey. Surely there was a paved road somewhere on that mountain. In comparison, my life is a peaceful cruise in a small, seaworthy vessel. I have encountered a few storms but the sun quickly appears through the clouds as I follow the beautiful shoreline.

We live in a country that is at peace, with good social services and free medical care. I have no metaphors for the life journeys of people who live where there is war, who are displaced and surviving without their basic needs being met. Every day I see how unexpected illness and injury can change the world of an individual or family. My life could be altered in an instant too. We never know when we might need that pickaxe.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Vice and Virtue

"Ruth is getting over a mild case of whooping cough. 
It has never affected her liveliness or her appetite. 
She eats like a little pig, a whole BIG banana every afternoon 
and then she cries for more. 
She loves her toes now and chews them 
with or without her boots on…"

Grandma T. kept every “aerogram” sent to Canada from my parents in South Africa. They are neatly numbered in an old Ganong's Chocolates box and my aunt graciously gave them to me a couple of years ago. I was born abroad and every little detail of my development was shared by my proud parents. A common theme in all the letters was my voracious appetite and my astounding rate of growth. The quote above was written by my mother in letter #37 when I was nearly six months old. It is obvious that I was born a glutton. I love bananas to this day, and thankfully still have ten toes.

We were challenged this week to write about which of the Seven Deadly Sins we are most guilty of. 
The medieval list;-

lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and hubris, 

seems a little repetitive in my opinion and could be summarized in three words, 

Overindulgence, laziness and malice.

I am guilty of all of them. They may not always be evident in my external behaviour, but if you could read my thoughts sometimes…

In truth, all human conflict is rooted in these vices whether it is a major war or a conflict at home or work. Self-centredness and taking personal offence can ruin our happiness, whether it is getting angry at a perceived inequity or getting in an argument with someone who has a different perspective or opinion than our own.

In spite of my faults, I prefer to focus on the seven virtues;-

chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, 
patience, kindness, and humility. 

Chastity has a deeper meaning than sexual purity and includes caring well for one’s body, knowledge, wisdom, and honesty. It abhors ignorance, hostility, and corruption. 

Virtue abounds in our world but vice gets far more press time. Nurturing virtue--personally, in our homes, careers, communities and nation is more of a challenge than simply calling out the short-comings of others.