Sunday, April 28, 2019

Looking for Stateswomen and Statesmen

Statesman -noun, a person who is experienced in the art of government or versed in the administration of government affairs. a person who exhibits great wisdom and ability in directing the affairs of a government or in dealing with important public issues.

I am pretty sure my family always voted Conservative but other than my uncle’s occasional rants about  Bill Davis’ provincial Conservative party (Davis was Premier of Ontario from 1971-1985), I remember little political discourse in our family. My dad once told me that Protestants voted Conservative and Catholics voted Liberal, but he kept his own choices a secret away from the ballot box. 

I have voted for every main party at one time or another in federal and provincial elections and have never identified strongly and consistently with any party. My leaning is “left centrist”, but after careful consideration, I try to vote for who I think would be the best local candidate and who would make the best leader. In the past I expected that my local MP or MPP would present their personal values as well as the concerns of their constituents in the legislature. Today, our representatives must vote along party lines, even if they do not agree with a policy, or be booted out of caucus. In my opinion, that is not how democracy should work.

My grandma always said that if a married couple never had a disagreement that one of them had to be stupid. She observed that intelligent people will have different viewpoints and opinions. How boring life would be if we all agreed on everything and had nothing to debate. We look at things from different personal, generational and cultural points of view. Differences of opinion and conflicts happen in the home, work place, schools, churches, as well as in the political arena. 

A couple of years ago I faced a work place conflict that escalated to the point where management became involved. A meeting was called and while I was confident that there was no wrong-doing on my part, the situation was very stressful. I read the book Crucial Conversations- Tools for Talking when the Stakes are High and took notes on how to approach the problem. I had to put myself in my co-worker’s shoes and step away from any defensive anger to come to a resolution. It was important to present some positive solutions without attacking the character of the other person. The meeting went far better than I could have imagined the issue was resolved. (I highly recommend this book!)

It is disheartening to see the polarization of social, economic and political ideology in many countries today. Angry accusations and personal attacks are the norm and people feel they need to put others down in order to promote themselves. We are bombarded with opinions and rumours online and it takes time to research and contemplate an issue from various angles. I believe most people are moderate and reasonable, but the voices at both ends of the political spectrum can be very, very loud. People will take sides on highly polarized issues, refusing to listen to each other or debate in a civil manner.

Will Durant, historian, philosopher and co-author of The Story of Civilization wrote, 

"A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself within.” 

Observing the turmoil in Great Britain, United States and other western countries, one can see how internal fighting is destructive to a nation’s socio-economic strengths and freedoms. Canada, as a large and diverse nation is not immune from partisan politics. No leader or party is perfect but I have hope that as a nation, in this election year, we can put aside vindictive and hateful rhetoric and negotiate respectful solutions for the present and future. That being said, I will not vote for any person or party, or follow anyone on social media who promotes personal attacks. But I welcome a good debate and love to participate in lively discussions about a variety of issues that we may never agree on completely. 

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Passage of Time

Six years ago I sat with our mother during her last night on earth. In some ways it seems like yesterday but in other ways the passage of time is very real. Our father is living with significant cognitive and physical challenges and each day in itself is an eternity for him. There are three new great-grandchildren who will never know her but two baby girls carry her name. 

The Queen of England is 93 years old today. Our mother, born six years later, was also named Elizabeth and the Princess was her girlhood role model. Mom carried herself with style and grace, just like the Queen and many others of that generation. She dreamed of living an active, healthy life into her 90’s. 

I roamed around meadows, ponds and streams today thinking about Mom and wondering if she has a window into our world. We humans imagine many things about the after life that bring us solace and comfort but there is no way of knowing the timelines of eternity.

Today is Resurrection Sunday. Our pastor preached from 1 Corinthians 15, the great (mystical) resurrection chapter of the New Testament. 

There are plenty of questions in the chapter and Paul’s answers are riddle-like to me. 

But someone may ask, "How will the dead be raised? What kind of bodies will they have?"

Paul says,
What a foolish question! 
(I don’t think it is a foolish question)

When you put a seed into the ground, it doesn’t grow into a plant unless it dies first. 
And what you put in the ground is not the plant that will grow, 
but only a bare seed of wheat or whatever you are planting. 
Then God gives it the new body he wants it to have. 
A different plant grows from each kind of seed....

It is the same way with the resurrection of the dead. 

Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. 
Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. 
They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. 
They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies.

1 Cor 15:35-39, 42-44a

Well, I understand seeds and I understand spring and when I am outdoors I feel my closest connection to God. Spring time is a yearly object lesson of resurrection from death. We count the passage of time on earth by seasons but we cannot fathom time on the other side of death.

Between the anniversary of Mom’s passing…April 22 (which is also Earth Day)...

to her birthday on May 5th.... 

and Mother’s Day a few days later…

Spring will unfold in extravagant beauty. And that gives me hope for eternity. 

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Groundhog Day Adventures


I decided a trip to the Ottawa area would be the best way to celebrate my end-of-January birthday so with a coupon, the senior’s discount and “cheap Tuesday” sale, I landed a ticket price with VIA Rail that was much cheaper than driving the distance in my car. As it turned out, the weather was bitterly cold and we were hit with a snowstorm the night before I left. Strangely enough, south-western Ontario was colder than Ottawa all week which is very unusual. But Ottawa has a lot more accumulated snow with treacherous ice under that snow!

Much as I love the outdoors, this was not a week for walking trails or river sides or city sidewalks or parking lots. It was not a week to drive around rural roads looking for owls or raptors. So in spite of sunny skies, we stayed indoors most of the time. Life is not boring with a toddler underfoot and my week was full of love and joy!

My return home on the train started with yet another Ottawa snow fall which made the drive to the station challenging. No groundhog in the Ottawa Valley saw its shadow yesterday which supposedly forecasts an early spring. I wouldn’t bet any money on that though!

The train arrived on time and headed toward Toronto uneventfully until we passed Kingston. Due to an earlier accident on the line that resulted in a fuel spill, all subsequent train traffic was slowed almost to a halt. I had a connection time of over 100 minutes in Toronto for my next train but in the end we were almost 3 hours late. Shared misfortune brings a certain camaraderie and the train car was abuzz with conversation. Four women travelling together were headed for a Toronto airport to catch an early evening flight to Iceland where they hoped to see the Aurora Borealis. They received all kinds of advice and encouragement from fellow passengers even though it was unlikely that they would catch their plane.

VIA Rail did the best they could to accommodate the inconvenienced travellers. My connecting train waited for the passengers coming from Ottawa and Montreal. We received a voucher for 50% off our next trip. It was warm and comfortable on the train unlike a long delay on the highway in your car.

On the last leg of my journey, an elderly man sat beside me. He boarded the train in Moncton NB over 36 hours earlier and was also caught in the mishap on his way from Montreal to Toronto. I had a choice of burying my face in my iPad or engaging in conversation with him. I was glad I chose the conversation option.

He shared the highlights of his humble but joyful 83 year journey on earth. Growing up poor in a rural, French-speaking community in New Brunswick, he left for Ontario and worked on the roads laying asphalt for many years. He bought 70 acres of land in New Brunswick 30 years ago for $1700 and built a small house where he has lived alone since retirement. He chops his own wood and has a large vegetable garden. He gives away the fresh food he cannot use to his neighbours and they return the favour in food gifts and friendship. He had a significant stroke a few years ago that left him with some right-sided weakness but he returned to full independent living except for the cane he needs for walking. He drives his car and meets friends daily at Tim Hortons or McDonalds. He was coming to my city for a few weeks to catch up with friends he made while he worked here for over 40 years.

I couldn’t help myself from secretly assessing him for signs of frailty and cognitive decline. In spite of his lack of education, he was mentally alert and very robust. I love observing people who age well!

He enjoyed a positive outlook, a supportive community, social contacts, regular physical activity, acceptance of his limitations, and pleasure in the small things of life. And he didn’t complain once about the train delay. We disembarked at the same station where freezing rain was falling. We both made it safely off the platform and to our respective rides.

Goodbye Raymond, and thank you for your lesson on community and friendship.

Community Spirit by Peter Etril Snyder
Use of image granted by the niece of the artist Cynthia Weber who holds the copyright to his body of work

Description of the above picture from The Record

"Peter Etril Snyder painted "Community Spirit," in 2011 inspired by a photo published in The Record.
It was the final painting in a series he created as a fundraiser for KidsAbility, his charity of choice.
At the time he wrote, "I wanted to create a historical neighbourhood-themed Christmas painting. What can be more Canadian than shovelling snow. Including the little guys on the porch added to the idea of the community joyfully working together."
"I've had a charmed life," he said in 2009.
Snyder died in 2017, but his lifetime achievement remains, reminding us that we are surrounded by the beauty of community."

Link to the Snyder Gallery

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Full Wolf Blood Moon Total Eclipse

It was exciting to watch the full moon eclipse tonight under clear, cold skies. Being relatively close to the Great Lakes, we generally have more days and nights with at least some cloud than without. The temperature is very cold but it could be colder in mid-January. This moon comes with plenty of labels. As well as being a Wolf Moon, it is a Perigee Moon (super moon), a Blood Moon as well as a totally eclipsed moon. I don't plan to stay up to watch the reverse show as the moon returns to its full brightness in a couple of hours.

Postscript: I did another edit in the morning with my best shots. Photos are hand held with a Canon SX50 superzoom camera.