On Privilege


Privilege: according to the Oxford dictionary is “A special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group”.

There has been a lot written about privilege, especially recently. Last evening, I was listening to a speaker at the library, an accomplished business woman and active volunteer in our community. She also happens to be Cree. Her name is Cheryl Alexander and her talk was about the indigenous people’s experiences in Canada, a country she nevertheless agreed is “wonderful”.

She was describing her mother’s experience in residential school, one of which left her unable to speak her native language. As a child she had been forced to eat a bar of soap for daring to speak Cree at school. Her experiences left her traumatized in many ways, and left her unable to give her children the legacy of her language because every time she would try to speak Cree she would experience anew the taste of soap in her mouth and the feelings of shame that accompanied it.

So, this morning I am thinking about everything this wise woman shared with the group. Unfortunately, I was unable to take in the whole of her talk and sat in for only a part of it during a lull in the library where I work. At any rate, I heard enough to compare the experiences of the downtrodden with the life of privilege many have known and still know today.

There are people who say, “why don’t they get over it? After all it happened so long ago.” Of course, the people I hear say these things are white, and perhaps do not understand the long-reaching consequences that continue to reverberate as a result of childhood abuse. The pain many people have suffered led many to self-medicate using alcohol or other substances to numb the pain. It left them unable to parent their children in many ways. And the cycle of neglect and/or abuse of children continued, and in many cases still does.

The purpose of the talk was to bring awareness around the experiences lived by most, if not all, indigenous people in Canada.

Comparing the story of First Nations Peoples to the Kavanaughs of this world is mind blowing. When a group of people are privileged they seem to be woefully ignorant of the experiences of those who are not so fortunate. It seems to me that privilege has a price too often paid by those who can ill afford to pay it. My mother used to say two things, “there, but for the grace of God go I”. And, “walk a mile in their shoes”. I have to say it is incredibly difficult to imagine the pain and the suffering experienced by indigenous people. It is almost too painful to even try to walk a mile in their shoes. It is equally as difficult to imagine why the privileged of this world seem to think it’s okay to live in gated communities and to continue to amass wealth on the backs of the poor.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to hear Cheryl’s talk. And I am grateful for the discussion that is continuing in the wake of the Ford/Kavanaugh story, and others like them. We have an opportunity to learn; to grow; to make a better world. I hope we do.

Dark days


Cold heart without empathy

Power has rotted your soul

And lost you your humanity

As you sit on your golden throne

And cast others into a hell

Of your unfeeling choosing

No caring exists in you

What will it cost?

This ambitious climb you’re on

Where people crushed beneath your feet

Have no recourse at all

Warnings come from all corners

Still your heart is hard

Your ears deaf to intense pleas

And neither entreaties sweet

Nor humble begging heard

Corruption fills your veins

Where once warm blood did flow

Your mind turned black and rotten

What hope survives is in this only fact

That one day you too shall fall

From your gilded altar

No cronies then

Nor bloodless worshippers

Primed to do your bidding

You alone shall drink the bitter wine

Of acrid fruits you sow

And know the heavy discontent

You’ve woven across the land

Like some vast and stinking cloak of darkness

The once proud bird of prey will seek you out

For all the hurt bestowed

As it stretches forth its talons

And confines you in its grasp

Woe to you

Oh pitiless one

When that day does come

 

 

Clicking away


I have been reading the news stories coming out of the U.S.A. about the horrific policies in place that allow babies and children to be separated from their families. I am saddened and appalled, as most people are. At the same time, I am seeing memes in my news feed on social media declaring that children are separated from their families when their parents break the law. But, you see, in that case it is the parent who is put in a cage, not the child. And in most cases, there are other family members who step into the breach to care for the children. This kind of thinking defies logic in my mind. How do you compare the two? There is no comparison.  Do people not understand that families fleeing situations that place them in peril- whether it’s due to poverty, war, or natural disaster –  are searching for a place to raise their children in peace. These people are the most vulnerable citizens of this planet. And the most vulnerable of all are the children. I cannot even fathom the trauma they experience by being forcibly separated from their only source of comfort and security – their families.

Two years ago, wildfires swept through the city I call home and we were evacuated. We left with very little clothing, food, or water. Some jokingly referred to themselves as refugees. But we live in Canada and the Red Cross delivered food, water, medicines, and essentials within hours of being evacuated. Yet I still remember those feelings of fear and vulnerability, even though I knew help was on the way. The mass efforts to provide humanitarian aid was swift and gratefully received.

For the peoples of South America there is no such comfort. Instead they reach a border where they hope to receive aid and are faced with the ultimate sorrow – separation from their children. I cannot even begin to imagine how that feels, or how I could ever deal with such a situation. And so, I have been clicking away, sharing news stories that underline the plight of refugees and immigrants; sharing memes that encourage compassion and inclusion.  I don’t know what else to do. I feel totally helpless. As for the people who embrace the logic of “don’t break the law”, I can only shake my head and sigh. Laws sometimes need to be broken when your very life is at stake. And this litany plays over and over in my mind, “there, but for the grace of God, go I”.

Taking out the garbage – literally and figuratively


Yesterday was garbage day. The recycling bins are also placed at the curb for emptying. Where we live the recycling, bins are alternated each week. One is light blue and contains paper products, the other is dark blue and contains plastics and aluminum items. When my husband went to put them out he knew it was the dark bins that had to go out. Yet when he looked up and down the street he saw only light blue bins at the curb. He went against the grain and put out the dark blue one anyway. As it turns out, he was right.

So why, you may ask, am I writing about putting out the garbage? Well, it made me think of how easily led we all are. Obviously the first person to put out their bins made a mistake. Yet all our neighbours followed suit. “The blind leading the blind”, so to speak.

We read about “fake news” and the power of social media. Recently I read an article in the Globe and Mail, This lone wolf operative is shaping Ontario’s political discourse, a political analysis by Adam Radwanski (in case you want to check it out yourself).

The article talks about the ‘lone wolf’s intentions of influencing the upcoming provincial election. He created memes he shares on social media with the caption, “Ontario Proud”. It can be very misleading. The memes attack the NDP and malign the Liberal Party. Can we guess which political party this lone wolf would like to see in power? At any rate, these memes are being shared by many on social media without the slightest hesitation.

I get it. People are fed up with Wynn’s liberals and want a change. The problem is that unless we investigate a little further we will not know what hidden agenda lays behind these memes. It’s like everyone following suit with the recycling bins. It’s how Trump got elected president.  Beware the memes people post, and ‘news’ stories from questionable source, that’s all I’m saying. Think for yourself, educate yourself, and don’t be taken in by slick memes and knee-jerk emotion.

My mother’s wisdom: Walk a mile in their shoes


When I was a child whenever I would come home from school with stories about my fellow students that were judgmental or harsh my mother would remind me to “walk a mile in their shoes”. Good advice I still try to live by, but it is not easy sometimes. It takes a lot of imagination to put yourself in the shoes of another. And sometimes I just cannot seem to get there. Still, it’s good to try and if I cannot succeed entirely I can at least remove the judge’s robes I sometimes don. After all nobody likes being judged. I know I don’t. Yet we all do it. We can only view life through our own lens of perception – and at times our perception is way off base. It’s like the lens through which we are peering are faulty or completely scratched, cracked, or broken, making our viewpoint narrow, or, at worst, skewered completely. At times like these it’s good to ask the other person to help us understand.

I may not agree with a viewpoint that is the polar opposite of my own, but I hope I will be respectful enough to realize that I may be wrong. It is differences that make our world so varied and so interesting. And so I endeavor to celebrate all the differences, all the viewpoints, all the challenges that help me grow as a person.

“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” – Audre Lorde

What is a life worth?


Several months ago I wrote a victim impact statement, unfortunately it was not usable so today I sat down to write another. It has been fifteen months since my younger brother was stolen from us in the most heart breaking and totally senseless way. It has been fifteen months of anguish. Fifteen months of being unable to truly lay him to rest as the criminal trial loomed and then began with each day a day from hell as we were all submerged into the depths of grief anew. And it is not yet over. On the 4th of May my family will meet once again in the coldness of a court room to witness the defendant being sentenced. On the 31st of January the defendant agreed to a plea bargain, which says he will be incarcerated for 4 ½ years and will have a 10-year driving ban. This is the human cost of one person driving under the influence of alcohol.

Was it worth the beer he drank I wonder? Was it worth incarceration and being banned from driving for a decade? Was it worth my brother’s life? Was it worth the agony he put my family through or the long-standing painful memories it has wrought?

What is a life worth?

 

Thoughts and Prayers


I have been thinking a lot about thoughts and prayers after the backlash following the horrific shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. It is not hard to understand the anguish and the anger that follows such a senseless and tragic catastrophe.  My heart goes out to the people in this community and to the American people as a whole. “Thoughts and prayers” have become a terrible cliché after so many mass shootings. It seems trite and useless, I am sure. The phrase that is meant as an expression of sympathy; as an expression of unity and empathy has been viewed as an insult to many when government action is not taken.

I am a child of the 60s and well remember the student protests in regards to the Vietnam War; to racial segregation; to injustices in general. I remember the sit-ins that were met with armed soldiers in some cases. The movie, ‘The Trial of Billy Jack’ springs to mind. We were the generation that wanted real change – and many of us still do. Sadly, violence is too often the response to a peaceful demonstration for change in many places in the world.

Yet, we are God’s hands. However, we have to agree to be just that. We have to ‘put our money where our mouths are’ and take concrete action to give legitimacy to our thoughts and prayers.

I am Canadian, but the coverage of the most recent school shooting has been massive here. It has eclipsed the very real issues around human rights that we face in our own country. When a farmer can kill an indigenous youth and be exonerated something is terribly wrong. My heart aches for the American people, but it also aches for all Canadians and for humanity in general, for all those who are living with injustices of every kind.

“More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of” – Alfred Lord Tennyson. I believe in the power of prayer; in the power of positive thought; in the inherent goodness of humanity. But our prayers must also incorporate the will to do something, to be God’s hands in this world.

Social media – only as good or bad as the person using it


I haven’t posted for a while. There has been a great deal going on in my life.  If you follow this blog you know about my brother, Chris, and the collision that took his life a little more than a year ago. You will also be aware that his death was caused by an impaired driver and the next trial date is Monday, the 8th.  It has been an incredible amount of stress for my whole family.

On New Year’s Day my husband ended up in hospital. He is very sick. I have been stressed (naturally) but I just wanted to take a minute to thank all the people on Facebook and other social media who have been exceedingly kind. The messages of support and positive energies have buoyed my spirit, even when I feel like I cannot go on.

Social media has the potential to do a lot of good. Of course there is always a flip side. Not long ago I learned about an instance where somebody was using it to spread hate, mistrust, lies, and general negativity. There’s a name for that – cyber bullying, and we are all familiar with the consequences – in the extreme people have died by suicide due to the harshness and the hardness of some hearts.

You reap what you sow; what you give out returns to you. Some people call it Karma.  I am a firm believer in that. I believe in the power of prayer and positive thinking.  And I believe in doing good whenever and wherever I can.

I am writing this to humbly ask, if you are a spiritual person, to pray and send positive energy to my husband. He really is gravely ill and I am casting a wide net to enlist all the spiritual power I can. So thank you for reading this and if you are a follower, please know I appreciate you.

May you know light and love and all things good and life-giving.

Choices, Consequences, and a personal Confession


I am old school. I believe that there are consequences to the choices we make. I was taught to own up to my “mistakes”. If I did something wrong I was expected to apologize and to make amends. I am glad I was taught this from an early age.

Like most children I had an innate curiosity about everything and (from my mother’s viewpoint) a never ending list of questions. I am sure I tried her patience considerably and I will be forever grateful for her enduring love and the lessons she taught me.

I remember when my mother caught me pulling the wings off house flies. I remember the frustration I had felt with the flies that were bothering me. I remember wanting to exact revenge on these creatures that were tormenting me. I remember my mother’s anger with me and her deep disappointment with my cruelty.  She killed the flies to put them out of their misery, and I, in turn, was horrified that she killed them. I hadn’t wanted them dead – I simply wanted them to stop flying around and pestering me.

I was very young; I don’t really know exactly how old I was. But I was old enough to be taught a lesson: A lesson about choices and about consequences. And although I don’t remember the words my mother said I do remember a long lecture.  And I remember the gist of the lesson: all creatures great and small deserve our respect; no creature should be abused in any way; life is precious, even the life of an insect. I learned that I, as small and as young as I was, could inflict pain. And I learned it was definitely not okay to do so. The consequence of my choice to pull the wings off the flies resulted in their deaths, for which I did feel very badly. That was my consequence – to feel the weight of my choice, my decision.

We each have an innate goodness and we also have a shadow side, a darkness that dwells within each, or so I have been told. And it makes sense to me. I lived it! But my point is not to dwell on the darker aspects of human nature; conversely it is to reflect on how we overcome it. There have been many books written on the subject by authors much wiser than I. So I will not attempt to answer this great mystery of good and evil in a mere blog post.

The events of the past year with its emphasis on death, on law, and the criminal justice system has caused me to think more deeply about life, love, and forgiveness. It has also given me much to consider as far as the consequences of our choices go. I think one of the reasons I have been so angry with the man who caused my brother’s death was his decision to plead not guilty, when it seemed abundantly clear to me that he was indeed guilty. I felt he should “man up” and confess to his decision to drink and drive and take his lumps.

I cannot speak for this man. I don’t know why he made the choices he made. But I do understand the very human inclination to self preservation. I am quite certain none of us want to know what the inside of a jail cell looks like. I am also quite certain that none of us want to experience what prison life might be like – from what I’ve seen represented on television and in movies it sure does not seem pleasant. So it makes sense that his man wants to avoid an education on life behind bars. Regretfully, by making this choice he has inflicted more pain on a grieving family.

Perhaps, like the small child I once was, I have wanted revenge; to inflict pain, as I have felt pain; to play God; to decide this man’s fate.

Thankfully that is not my job. Though God knows I have judged him harshly enough in my mind.

I still don’t have any answers. I am not God – I am not all-seeing or all-knowing. I just hope that as I walk this road I find the willingness to forgive – even if I can never forget.

The mystery of Christmas peace


It was a much nicer Christmas than I expected it to be, especially since the week before we heard from the crown attorney’s office asking for a meeting on the 29th of the month – sending us all into a bit of a tailspin and bringing all the pain of the trial and Chris’s death back fresh once again. For those of us outside of the province, we will be taking part through a conference call – which is a good thing; at least we will be able to participate in whatever is to come.  I did not want to write about my thoughts or feelings in the days leading up to Christmas. It should be a joyful time and I did not want to cast a shadow over it for others. But it was hard. I think our whole family felt like we were being drawn back into the darkness of pain and grief with that impending meeting. It also left us all wondering what was up now – I guess we will find out Friday morning. I know that many of us, if not all, were dreading another Christmas without our brother and worrying about the impact it was having on his children.

But the mystery of peace at Christmas time seemed to percolate through the negative thoughts and feelings and overcame them. At least, that’s how it was for me. From deep sadness to inexplicable joy as Christmas approached. Now, don’t get me wrong – grief is also a mysterious thing and could trip me up when I was least expecting it, but in the end I was able to rise above it – thanks to the grace that Christmas brings.  And family – that blessing that buoys us up and helps us keep going.

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas.  And may the deep and abiding peace of Christmas remain with us all throughout the New Year.  Merry Christmas and as Tiny Tim said, “God bless us, everyone”.