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One of the oddest memories I have from my childhood is going to the movies with my family.

My father would organize the outing, and he didn’t care about something so basic as when the movie started. No, we just showed up any old time, usually in the middle of the movie. Nothing made any sense, of course. We watched, the movie progressed, the ending came – it still didn’t make a lot of sense to me. Then, we waited for the beginning to come around again, and watched the movie. Then, my father would stand up and say, “Well, this is where we came in,” and we would leave. Now the movie made sense to me, but in a most unusual and disconcerting way.

Ever since, I have had a thing about arriving on time at the beginning of a movie – it really bothers me to come in late, and I think I know why.

It occurred to me today that that is an apt metaphor for our life’s journey. At an early age, we’re thrust into the middle of something we do not understand. And we leave at a time that is not necessarily of our choosing. Things are left undone and unsaid. Someone once said that every live is an uncompleted journey – I guess that’s why.

Please forgive me for meandering my way to the point, but I fear I must.

When my father would become frustrated with my lack of understanding of what he was saying to me, he would sometimes say, “You’ll understand when you have children of your own.” But I never did have any, at least none that I could admit to.

Still, late in life, through an unusual set of circumstances that I consider a blessing, I have been allowed to help raise two beautiful god-daughters, presently aged eight and two – real darlings, and I love them more than I can say. I sometimes say, “I may not have had children, but I do have grand-children,” and that’s kind of how they feel to me. I think, too, that that’s how they look at me. That’s the niche that I fill in their lives, and I am so grateful for that.

I know that the older girl would be very sad if I were to die now, and when the time does come for me to leave, probably in about twenty to twenty-five years, given the average lifespan in my family, it will leave a lot of things undone – I may or may not have had the chance to dance at her wedding – a thought that entertains me.

And at the end of the uncompleted journey that will have been my life, I will have gone from being a child, thrust uncomprehending into this life, midstream, as it were, to being thrust out, stepping off into the great unknown, with the equivalent of grand-children presumably mourning me.

Contemplating that thought, I imagine myself echoing my father’s words in a theatre, so many years ago, “Well, I guess this is where I came in.”

How Important Are We?

“Have you ever wondered how many angels you have? All of them. They insisted.” (Tut.com)

That was a message that I received from tut.com, which sends me an inspirational email message each weekday – I highly recommend it if it appeals to you.

If you’re like me, there are many times that you feel unimportant.

But surely, we re wrong.

Have you ever tried to speak to someone who is, in the eyes of the world, important? It’s not always easy to arrange an appointment. “Hello, I’d like to speak to the Prime Minister.” How do you think that would work out?

But before we feel too bad about that, we should remember we have instant access, any time of day or night, to someone indefinitely more important than the Prime Minister, the President, the Queen . . .

God.

However you conceive Him, He hears us, all of us, all of the time, no matter how unimportant we might feel ourselves to be.

And if He who made the stars thinks us important enough to attend on our every thought, word and deed, should we not revise our opinion of ourselves upwards, just a tad?

Jesus called us His Brothers, and God is the father of us all – we are made in His image.

Not bad?

One of the things that we pride ourselves on in the West is freedom, particularly freedom of speech, but that freedom is, increasingly, an illusion. We simply do not have freedom of speech; similarly, we do not have freedom of religion.

Do you doubt me? Listen to this:

In 2002, during a period of debate leading up to the legal recognition of gay marriage, Fr. Alphonse de Valk, a Catholic pastor, wrote a letter to the editor of an Alberta paper in which he denounced what one might call “the homosexual agenda”, especially as how it sought to teach children that homosexuality was simply a perfectly acceptable alternative to homosexuality – which is what our current lesbian premier in Ontario seeks to do through her new sexual education guidelines. Right or wrong, it was his opinion based on his religion which is based, of course, on the Bible.

Freedom of speech and freedom of religion, yes? Who could stop him from speaking his mind?

The Alberta Human Rights Commission, a quasi-judicial body – there’s one like it in every province – that is increasingly stripping Canadians of their freedoms – when they offend someone – that’s who.

For exercising his constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech and religion, he was ordered by that so-called human right commission to pay $5000, publicly apologize, and refrain from making “disparaging” comments about homosexuality – even from the pulpit of his Catholic Church, which believes, as an article of faith, that homosexuality is “disordered”. In other words, he was forbidden to preach his own religion in his own church.

Thus, in this one decision, we see that, in Canada, we do not have freedom of speech or freedom of religion.

And how does the HRC justify stripping us of those rights? So-called “hate” laws. Preaching “hatred” is a crime, but what is “hatred”?

Is it “hatred” to find fault with what a person or group is doing? I don’t see how. It may anger and offend them, but there is no constitutional right not to be offended.

Advocating harm to a person or group IS hatred, but Father de Valk was not advocating that.

It’s time to take back our freedoms, beginning with the abolition of human rights commissions and the laws that set them up, including these so-called “hate” laws.

Overt criticism of homosexuals or Islam or ethnic/cultural groups may be uncomfortable, but it is also perfectly legitimate and even necessary for the kind of free exchange of ideas that helps us to move forward.

Isn’t that what the Enlightenment was all about?

Call Me a Crackpot

Come this summer, I will have been retired for two years. I’ll be 65 years old. When do I start to fall apart? Hopefully not for a few years yet. And in my desire to stay as healthy as I can for as long as possible, I have found that the last place I want to look for help is Western medicine, especially in Canada.

Canadians feel that they are well served by the medical establishment. I read last week that 90% have great faith in their family doctor.

The fools!

Over the years, I have heard people complain about doctors, and I thought they were crackpots. A woman I once knew who had MS raged about them, partly because they misdiagnosed her for years, prescribing tranquilizers and telling her it was all in her head. Another woman, a vitamin sales person, said they were all stupid and killed people.

May I take this opportunity to apologize to both of them.

And, oh yes, color me a crackpot.

Let me tell you why:

Last fall, I had a bad accident in which I sustained a compound fracture of the humerus – not that there was nothing funny about it. The bone was broken in seven places and poking through the skin. The surgeon said it was the worst break he had ever seen, that it was as if the bone had “exploded”. According to him, nurses in the operating room, who you would think had “seen it all” were saying, “Poor guy.” It touch him four hours to clean me up and put me back together again – for which I am most grateful.

That’s the kind of thing at which Western medicine excels, but chronic conditions . . . ? That’s another thing entirely.

I spent months in physiotherapy, trying to get the full range of motion back, but my elbow was stubbornly stiff. The physiotherapist hinted more and more frequently that it wasn’t getting better in any kind of hurry. Finally, she said, “I think that’s the max.” Along the way, she cut my appointments from three per week, to two, to one (over my objections), but there was nothing I could do about it.

A normal elbow yields a range of 0º to 150º. Mine was about 20º to 120º – not bad, I guess, but I wanted better. When she told me it wouldn’t happen, I said, “I’m not ready to give up yet,” and when she repeated herself, I added, “Well, then I guess I’ll have to have faith for both of us.”

You see, I had been through something like this twice before, but not as bad. I cracked my left elbow twice, and the second time, the physiotherapist said, “Since this is the second time you’ve done this, you probably won’t get the full range of motion back.” I looked at her, and I said, “You. Just. Watch me.” Then I asked the head of the clinic for a new physiotherapist because I wanted to keep my attitude positive. He said that he understood completely, and arranged it.

I got my full range of motion back.

Anyway, the last time I saw the more recent physiotherapist, she told me five times that I would not get any better. I told her that I needed to believe that I would, and that irrespective of what she believed and however many sessions she would or would not give me, I was going to soldier on. When she kept harping on it, I finally told her that she was welcome to her opinion, and I wasn’t going to argue with her, but I didn’t want to hear it anymore: I wanted to stay positive. Apparently that was too much for her, so I had to say that if she didn’t stop, I would go elsewhere, even though a private physiotherapist would cost me money that I could ill afford. She said that was my decision.

Ouch!

So I did find someone else, a man who was an orthopedic surgeon in China but could not practice here because of the language barrier and the time it would take to requalify. I decided to trust him with my elbow, and I feel that I never made a better decision.

The Chinese method of regaining range of motion is different than the Western. It involves a lot more dynamic movement and stretching, and it hurts, really hurts: half an hour at a time of pain that I could barely tolerate, and I have a pretty high threshold of pain. He warned me that it was painful, and he wasn’t kidding. At the end of the first session, that left me panting, I growled, “Is that all ya got?” And we both cracked up laughing. I had to get something out of my suffering.

And now, my range of motion, when I’m fully stretched out has increased 5º in extension and almost 10º in flexion.

Wow!

I told my Canadian physiotherapist the story of Glenn Cunningham, hoping that it would inspire her not to give up on me, but to no avail. If you’ve never heard his story, you should. Here, in summary, it is.

Glen Cunningham was in a fire when he was a boy. He lit the stove in his one room school house every winter morning to get it warm enough for study. One morning, things got out of hand, there was a terrible fire, he got caught . . .

The doctors wanted to amputate his legs, but his mother said no. The doctors warned against gangrene, but she took him home, changed his dressings, and his legs were saved. He even had some sensation and a little movement in them.

The doctors were amazed, but they said he would never walk again.

But the boy and his mother were not quitters. She massaged the wasted muscles every day to keep them from atrophying completely. Together they did something that resembled physiotherapy (this was a long time ago), and guess what?

He walked. And then, he decided he wanted to run.

The doctors? As usual, they were amazed, but of course they said he would never run.

Guess what . . . ?

Yes, of course he ran, competitively, an athlete. And he decided that he would be the first person to run a four minute mile – something that had never been done, something that everyone said was impossible.

I guess he was tired of hearing what was impossible.

The prevailing wisdom was that the way to run a mile was to really pour it on during the first half of the race and ease off a bit for the second, maybe because you had no choice at that point. He decided that the way to break the four minute barrier was to pace yourself a bit during the first half and then really pour it on during the second.

Guess what . . . ?

Of course he broke the four minute barrier.

But I guess my physiotherapist was not impressed. I told my new physiotherapist the story and he smiled. Then he started stretching me out, and I wasn’t so sure that I should have inspired him.

But my arm is improving, and I am determined to get back my full range of motion.

So Chinese physiotherapy is superior to Western methods. What about the rest of Western medicine? As it turns out, I have an opinion to express on that subject, too.

Due to the shock of the accident, a lot of stress that I was under, even more bedrest, lots of painkillers (first morphine, then oxycontin, then codeine), I developed high blood pressure. I had it once before due to stress at work, weight gain and so on. At it’s highest, it went up to 195/105, which is pretty high considering that healthy is considered 120/80.

My GP put me on meds which got it down to normal, but I didn’t like the side effects, and I can remember my mother complaining about them for the last twenty or so years of her life. I decided that I was not going to go that route. Somehow, I was going to get off the medications.

I read some books like The High Blood Pressure Hoax, and that doubled my determination to get off them. The long term side effects are nasty: brain shringake, mineral depletion, the need for ever increasing meds, and more.

I asked my GP about what I was reading, and she just stared at me. Not only did she not answer my questions; she did not even acknowledged them. According to her, I would be on medication for the rest of my life, and all I could do was watch how much salt I ate and “walk around the mall” for exercise.

So, I went to a doctor who practices orthomolecular medicine. He put me on all kinds of supplements like magnesium, CoQ10, arginine, and others. He told me to start working out, which I did. I also meditated every morning and got pretty good at using a blood pressure monitor, which was very satisfying when I saw the numbers coming down.

Now, three months after I was diagnosed, I’m completely off the medication. My blood pressure is around 110/65, and my resting heart rate is 54.

Not only does our standard approach to high blood pressure (and a host of other chronic conditions) fail to cure them, it is incredibly expensive. Think of how much meds for life and all the doctor’s appointments are. No wonder the healthcare budget is ballooning.

And so, in my campaign to stay as healthy as I can for as long as I can – maybe even die with my boots on – I’m looking to orthomolecular medicine, the Paleo diet (which is the opposite of the much vaunted “food pyramid” that is making America obese and diabetic), exercising and meditation.

Call me a crackpot.

Selflessness

I have sometimes wondered if the soul is unchangeable or if it is something that can learn and grow in the manner of our hearts and minds. In other words, what is the nature of the soul?

I remember a passage from the Buddhist sutras (scriptures) in which a seeker left the Buddha’s presence in tears because he felt, from their conversation, that he had no “atman” (what Hindus thought of as the immutable soul). Afterwards, the Buddha told Ananda, his chief disciple, that it was wrong to teach that Man has a soul, but it was also wrong to teach that he does not. Interesting stuff!

Jesus taught little concerning the nature of the soul, although He had a lot to say about how to secure its salvation.

Full disclosure: I am a relatively recent Catholic convert, but I have learned a lot from other traditions and do not hesitate to find meaning in them when and where I can.

Anyway, I have written a poem that was inspired by much of the above, and I present it here for your consideration:

 

Selflessness

 

An earnest seeker to the Buddha came,

his troubled mind possessed by fears,

then left, his eyes downcast

and full of tears.

 

Ananda, puzzled, of his master asked

what caused the seeker so much pain.

The Buddha answered him,

“I will explain.

 

“He sought to know what Man’s true nature was,

I said, ‘It is an empty bowl,’

for it is wrong to teach

Man has a soul.”

 

The Buddha added, then, contrarily,

regarding what he had just taught,

“It, too, is wrong to teach,

that Man does not.”

 

One wonders, in that weighty paradox,

what lofty truth that Buddha knew

was left for us to learn –

truth comes in twos?

 

Years later, in Jerusalem, a rich

young man unto Lord Jesus came,

but then he left, his face

downcast in shame.

 

St. Peter asked of Jesus, “Tell me, Lord,

why does the rich man turn away?”

Said Jesus, “He cannot

accept the way

 

“that leads a man unto eternal life.

He does all the commandments say;

one thing, alone, he lacks:

to give away

 

“his worldly wealth and Heaven’s treasures win

if, truly, he makes it his goal

to gain the Kingdom and

perfect his soul.”

 

And in that teaching Christ shares with us all

this wisdom, prized at any cost:

one’s life is only found,

when it is lost.

 

Do these two ancient teachings both ring true,

and to our minds are they as leaven

when some, Nirvana seek,

and others, Heaven?

 

Perhaps, salvation and enlightenment,

through death of all self-centeredness,

both issue from the womb

of selflessness.

And as I Sat

As any followers of this blog are already aware, I have not been posting frequently during the past several months due to a serious accident in September and a demanding schedule of physiotherapy – which I am happy to report is going well – and a lot of life details to take care of. I have a ways to go yet, but am sure that I will be fine in the end. In the meantime, I have been writing a lot of poetry – it’s healing. Here is one that I wrote on the subject of the accident and its aftermath. It’s raw but honest. I hope you like it.

And as I Sat

as i sat broken by the unforgiving pavement

bones obscenely rupturing torn skin

one shattered arm i cradled like a newborn babe

hoping help would speedily arrive

i prayed the surgeon’s skill

would banish the raw jagged waking nightmare

back into the shadows whence it came

and as i sat

two men (who’d watched me trace my blunt arc through the air)

came round and

in loud voices

and forced

joviality

gave manly comfort as they could

a boy first on the scene fought down his own anxiety

the piercing sight of spreading red upon my lap too much for him

he was too brave to lie

i calmed him as i could

his courage was a balm to me

a lovely spanish lass with perfect, perky tits

– oh yes, i noticed them (i’m sorry, child) –

gave reassurance with

her big brown

doe-ish

eyes

i flirted

shamelessly

but we both knew

it was all innocent bravado in the face of pain and fear

i only craved the comfort that she freely, as a mother, gave

still I was strangely calm

as if I drifted on a dead calm sea

each bump as I was carted

to the

hospital

each searing jolt of pain

was meaningless – more was at stake

a surgeon’s smile

– oh, how I loved that man! –

the clear plastic mask of sleep descending gently over mouth and nose –

“could this be my final sight?”

awakening in a morphine fog

then months of dreary physiotherapy,

work left undone, all rust and dust,

dreams savagely deferred

and some most cruelly dispatched:

a woman gone,

a priest that never came . . .

the disappointments flooded fast.

to my surprise, I grew!

My arm was shattered, yes,

but still, it may one day be whole again

for I am working hard,

and I’m a stubborn, stubborn man,

though I have many other breaks to heal,

the other jagged pieces of my life

that also rose and then broke over me

like filthy waves upon some urban beach

all strewn with broken needles, once worn condoms, cans and glass . . .

Oh, I will pick them up,

my shattered dreams, that is,

Oh yes, I will;

I do,

and, as I do,

I AM!

Yes, this is me!

For I’ve passed through the furnace of my fears,

and still more harrowing, the clouds of dull despair –

the phoenix laughs at me,

she who truly died,

not merely passed through faux mortality as I,

a mere visitor,

lingering

on the dismal shores of one sad concrete river of awakening.

This one thing I have surely learned:

We live our lives from many layers, onion-like.

Some of our psyche’s several parts play out their roles diurnally,

While others, deeper still, through larger cycles toil and deeper delve,

And one there even is whose long, strong roots plunge down, and further down into eternity.

And in this pilgrimage of mine,

Spent sifting through my mundane fears,

Those roots grow deeper still,

And ever will,

Through all my psyche’s scars,

As they reach bravely even to the stars.

The snow fell a few days ago.

That’s nothing profound, but the flakes were so tiny, and they fell so slowly, yet they accumulated so deeply.

It was, to me, a metaphor: the largest task can be accomplished by a plethora of tiny efforts.

This is a cliche, I know, and I would not think of blogging about something so obvious, but here’s the thing: nature offers us these little insights, cliched though they may be, if we are open to them – usually, we are not.

If we were more in touch with nature, I think that we would find all of the little bits of wisdom that we are already aware of constantly reenforced.

And that’s what I’m blogging about.

:-)

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