Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Not So S.A.D.

One January afternoon we headed for a lakeside park to combat our Seasonal Affective Disorder, at least that’s what we call our lazy hibernating. It was a cold day, but the clear blue sky held brilliant sunshine. For once, we piled on the right coats, scarves, mitts and hats to enjoy a winter walk instead of either dashing from house to car in unzipped jackets, or skidding along city sidewalks, shivering in our downtown coats and dressy boots. 

At the park, we were dramatically rewarded.
Lake Ontario’s huge waves exploded into white spray as they crashed against the shoreline boulders. The rushing water roared in loudly and then hissed its retreat through beach pebbles. The sun’s warmth on our faces tempered a chilly wind. Down a gravel walkway we discovered that the splashing spray had sailed past the huge rocks, and drenched the trees, bushes and long grasses. Somehow Nature had managed to tame the lake’s flying water into a sparkling, glassy cover for the landscape. We had arrived at a dazzling gallery.

One scraggly tree had become a Tiffany window of art glass, through which we could see the sun’s glitter on the lake.
Long stems of dead, beige grass were shining, arched ice sculptures lining our pathway. Sumach bushes wore extra-thick ice coatings and stood like the walls of an enticing fairytale entrance, as every inch mirrored sunlight. 
And then there were the dogwoods, dormant and leafless like most vegetation here in winter, but blessed with red bark. Their scarlet, twiggy branches gleamed through a glaze of clear crystal, looking more magical than any Christmas decorations.

 As we adults gasped at the natural artwork, the children researched what can be done with ice, grass, and bushes. They stomped on low-lying grass to hear and feel the crackling crunch. They carefully stripped a branch of its frozen coating and discovered that they were holding a hollow tube. 
“This could be a straw!” 
Smaller twigs became handles for ice popsicles. We all learned that if you tap together thick pieces of ice you hear chimes.

Oh joy! Exhilarated by fresh air, and tipsy with beauty, we gave thanks. 

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

"Little Old Lady" - Part II

Some days I sing my own version of Kermit’s song, “It’s not that easy being old”. 

At this point I have few complaints about aging, since I have no chronic pain and can still do anything the average adult can do. But I’ve had my 60th birthday. I'm often given seniors' discounts. There’s no denying that real old age is just around the corner, assuming death doesn’t make an early appearance.
It’s hard to ignore future possibilities and sometimes they scare me.

Don’t bother reminding me that old age isn’t always a nightmare. I have a 70 year old friend who runs marathons and enters bike-a-thons; she earns her living by being a personal trainer! It’s hard to imagine that she’ll ever seem old.
But I’ve spent time visiting seniors’ homes; I’ve watched dear relatives deteriorate in horrifying ways before they died; I’ve listened to friends talk about their awful experiences of caring for aged parents. It’s hard not worry a bit.

What to do with the fear of aging?
Well, besides lecturing the world about referring to “little old ladies”, I’m basking these days in the beauty of these bountiful bible blessings and hereby bestow them on you, Beloved Blog-follower:

Listen to me,…
you whom I have upheld since your birth, and have carried since you were born. 
Even to your old age and gray hairs, I am the one, I am the one who will sustain you. 
I have made you and I will carry you; 
I will sustain you and I will rescue you. 

Praise God…who redeems your life… and crowns you with love and compassion, 
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. 

The righteous [those who share God’s values] will flourish like a palm tree, 
they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon… 
They will still bear fruit in old age, 
they will stay fresh [full of sap] and very green. 
(Psalms 103 & 92, Isaiah 46)

Speaking of “green”, here’s another uplifting psalm.
Kermit’s song (by Joe Raposo) 

It's not that easy bein' green
Having to spend each day the color of the leaves,
When I think it could be nicer being red or yellow or gold
Or something much more colorful like that.

It's not easy bein' green
It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things,
And people tend to pass you over 'cause you're
Not standing out like flashy sparkles in the water
Or stars up in the sky.

But green's the colour of Spring
And green can be cool and friendly-like
And green can be big like an ocean
 or important like a mountain
Or tall like a tree

When green is all there is to be
It could make you wonder why
But why wonder, why wonder?
I am green and it'll do fine
It's beautiful!
 And I think it's what I want to be!


Monday, 16 January 2012

"Little Old Lady" - Part I

Don’t ever say those words again; I mean it.

I’m an old woman now and I hear the dismissive insult for what it is. Casually tossing out that phrase is mindless, and perpetuates a destructive stereotype. Likewise calling older people, “Dear”. Another favourite, “the blue-rinse set”. I just about bit my friend’s head off when he referred recently to some older women as “biddies”.

Of course language like that didn’t bother me when I was young.  As a teenager in the 1960’s I believed that old people were dim-witted-stick-in-the-muds who feared new ideas. The ones I knew seemed easily shocked at small changes like wearing jeans to school and church. Those old people were clueless. Our clever generation would put the world right. The fact that I would eventually become one of those old people myself was irrelevant and, in fact, unbelievable.

Although the wise ones have always taught that we must imagine ourselves in another’s shoes, it’s hard to do so if the shoes are truly foreign. 
I learned this the hard way. 
It took personal experience as an object of gender prejudice for me to recognize how much wrong thinking there was about girls and women (boys and men also). As a young woman I suffered personal losses from such narrow-mindedness and grew more impassioned as I studied “herstory” (groan) and became politically aware. After I was more enlightened, I met  many men and some women who found it impossible to imagine why people like me felt so strongly about gender equality. When I raised the issue they would look at me as if I had green antennae and a tail, utterly alien. Many women at the time thought they were making a convincing rebuttal against fighting for equal rights by declaring “But I’ve never been treated differently because I’m a woman”. They could not and would not imagine walking in my shoes.

Bias and prejudice sneak up on us without warning.
I shock myself by making assumptions about slow drivers, Muslim men and Republicans. 
If you see a headline about Stephen Harper or Barak Obama do you expect the worst or the best? Might your expectation be biased?

Some definitions:
BIAS and PREJUDICE can be used as synonyms but with a different slant.

BIAS: An inclination or preference that influences judgement away from being balanced or even-handed. Prejudice is bias in a pejorative sense.

Irrational, preconceived opinion that leads to preferential treatment to some people and unfavourable bias or hostility against others,due to ignorance (or in direct contradiction) of facts. Prejudice literally means, pre-judgment.

One might have a reasonable bias based on one’s own experience or research. I confess that I still hold some bias against males, though it’s being exorcised by my love for my three adorable grandsons. My personal experience, my knowledge of history, and current news reports (another ex-husband murdered his former wife in Toronto last week) combine to tempt me toward a bias against men as a group.
And one might have a prejudice stemming not because of personal experience but for reasons like childhood teaching or natural xenophobia or one's cultural norm as we see with long-standing ethnic enmities.

Allowing ourselves to retain these biases is lazy. Instead of anticipating new adventures we sleep-walk with the familiar. This drowzy thinking breeds dangerous feelings of  distance from "those" people (idiots, jerks, etc.) instead of increasing our sense of human commonality. 

What are the fixes? Prejudice can be moderated, at least, by experience and/or education. Have coffee with someone from an alien group. There's nothing to lose and lots to learn. Force yourself to read a book by Mark Steyn, Naomi Klein, Irshad Manji, or Pope Benedict, whichever one you're not drawn to. If we can bring our biases to conscious attention once in a while, we can choose to reject such sloppy attitudes because of our clear-eyed commitment to justice, compassion and wisdom.

I’m still discovering my own prejudices, but hear this: the next time you’re tempted to say “little old lady” bite your tongue.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Day by Day

This familiar song from the musical “Godspell” uses a great phrase:

Day by day, 
Day by day, 
Oh dear Lord,
Three things I pray:
To see thee more clearly, 
Love thee more dearly
Follow thee more nearly, 
Day by day.

The phrase has a pleasing rhythm when you say it out loud, “day by day, day by day, day by day”; it’s calming, like a rocking chair’s back and forth motion. 

Three things about a day-by-day view of life attract me and give me hope. 
First, there is the rocking chair calm, the comfort from routine, the peace that comes from repeated ritual, the ease that emerges from disciplined practices. Personal wholeness sprouts, grows and blooms very gradually. A deepening spiritual life is lived bit by bit.

Secondly, we can live our individual lives as the unique free agents we are and yet maintain life-giving connection with each other and with God as co-workers and companions day by day. The idea shows up long before "Godspell" in the bible book called The Acts of the Apostles, a history of the first Christians. There, Acts 2: 46-47 reads that “day by day” the Jesus-followers got together, to eat and talk and pray, while at the same time “day by day”, the God they knew through Jesus made surprising things happen. 
As the new United Church creed states “We are not alone; we live in God’s world”. God, too, is active within human life day by day. 
Sometimes it appears that the Spirit sweeps into global history as with the fall of the Berlin wall or the end of South African apartheid or recently during Arab Spring. 
More frequently God’s active presence plays out for each of us in varied and personal ways, intimate moments that we can sometimes share, if not fully explain. History offers thousands of specific examples, first-hand testimonies about personal interactions with the Divine One throughout the centuries from Abraham to Desmond Tutu.

Thirdly, our phrase describes the only way life can be lived, much as we regret or long for the past, and worry about the future. Giving up our delusion of control can bring exhilarating freedom for making the most of this one day, today. Day by day we make our choices and day by day, like the crazy woman who lives inside my GPS, we have another chance for “recalculating”.

Here's the original source for the "Godspell" lyrics:
Richard of Chichester, 13th century: 

Most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother,
may we know you more clearly,
love you more dearly,
and follow you more nearly,
day by day.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Is This a Cold or a Deadly Plague?

In 62 years, I’ve never had a cold like this one. For five weeks a gremlin has been moving around my body, pestering me and everyone else who comes within hearing distance.
First it made me cough at night, depriving me of sleep, and then cough in public causing an  embarrassing sound during Christmas shopping trips and neighborhood parties. I could only apologize and offer lame assurances that it wasn’t infectious.

After a couple of weeks the gremlin moved from my lungs to my throat and voicelessness was added to my now habitual cough. Each morning I felt better on waking and started the day eagerly, buying the Christmas tree, or baking gingerbread, but every afternoon I lost my ability to speak, although I still croaked and honked like a Canada goose. Week after December week I sat silent while others sang lovely Christmas Carols, silent except for my honking.  I felt mocked by the beautiful favourite, "Silent Night". In the audience for  a seasonal comedic play I desperately tried to restrain my tendency to laugh loudly lest the goose re-manifest.

Based on my belief that normal colds last about a week, I visited my doctor after suffering for three, scoring an appointment when I told the receptionist that I needed an antibiotic for a lung infection. My doctor wasn’t impressed. After stethoscoping my lungs she implied that I was a sneaky liar (okay, maybe that was my guilty inference) and told me there was nothing wrong with my lungs and no need, or point, to her prescribing an antibiotic.
Back to bed with me.

But it was Christmas time! 
I dragged myself out each day to another Christmas event or errand, meeting a friend for coffee, buying stocking treats.
I coughed my way through our traditional Christmas Eve party and staggered to a late church service at 11:00 p.m. because I had promised to serve communion (lucky recipients, mine). 

By Boxing Day the gremlin had let up on the cough some and moved to my sinuses. I’ll spare you the details, but if I shared them you couldn’t be more disgusted than I was with my own self. Ugh.
Still, everyone else was off work for rare holidays, so I had to keep going between my collapses. I learned that the air in the Young People’s Theatre is extremely dry (hack, hack) and I gave thanks that musicals for children are very short.

By week four I began a private reflection about the difference between what people call a “cold” and what they call, “the flu”. 
I swear that years ago, if one had a “cold”, one had a stuffed nose, a sore throat and/or a cough for a week or so. If one had “the flu”, one was nauseated and throwing up for a few days. Somehow, at some point during the last 20 years the term “flu” changed its meaning and we were told to start getting “flu shots”. 
Is this what I have this year, the newly defined “flu” for which people can get vaccinated? But then I’ve also heard that different flues strike each year and so the recommended injection doesn’t even guarantee immunity from this marathon infestation. 

It’s now week five or nineteen and today the gremlin is offering a bit of coughing, more nose-blowing and  familiar fatigue. At least the demands and lovely opportunities of Christmas and New Year’s have ended and since I’m not employed, I can stay in bed.  
Will this evil illness ever end? 
The worst part is that I keep remembering a rhyme that my late father gave me for a highschool Health Class poster:

“I sneezed a sneeze into the air.
It fell to earth I know not where,
But shortly after, I was told
A dozen others had my cold.”

Dear Reader, I hope that you are not one of those.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Love, Love, Love - Blah, Blah, Blah

Reggie is five years old. He can’t read yet, but he knows how to love. 

The word, “love” is used so imprecisely that it has become almost useless with its wildly varied meanings. Psychologists and preachers talk a lot about what we really mean when we use this battered word.
 “I love my new Honda Fit”
 “I love you. Don’t leave me.” 
 “All we need is love.”
“Jesus said to love our enemies.”

Here’s Reggie’s example of true love.

Just before Christmas Reggie was out shopping with his dad who was looking for magazines to use as stocking-stuffers.
Suddenly Reggie piped up,
“Dad? Hey, Dad! Look at this.”
“What, Buddy?”
His father looked down to see the little boy pointing at a book of puzzles on the rack.
Reggie’s eager eyes met his Dad’s,
“What’s this called?”
“It’s a Crossword puzzle”
“I saw these at Grandma’s house. She said that it’s her favourite game to play. Can we get it for her?”

No one had told Reggie to find a Christmas present for his grandmother. He had no idea what a crossword puzzle was, nor why anyone would find fun in it. He simply recognized the black and white grid on the store shelf as something his grandmother enjoyed, and he spontaneously wanted to give her what he knew would make her happy. Imagine her delighted surprise when she heard the story of her little one’s selfless choice, thoughtful beyond what many adults can manage.

Surely this is the kind of love that Jesus meant.
Who knew a kindergarten child could serve as a lighthouse lamp, guiding our spirits through life’s puzzling darkness? Reggie’s ‘other-love’ shows the way.