Masks are a big topic of conversation these days, but it’s not Covid-19 I am thinking of as I write this, but the masks we wear every day for one reason or another: to hide our pain; to disguise our low self-esteem; to “fit in”: or a wide variety of other reasons. Mostly we wear them to protect ourselves, I think. New situation like a new job, perhaps, or a move to a new community. The thing is no matter where we go, we take ourselves with us, for good or for evil. The phrase “keeping it real” is bandied about quite a lot, but how many of us are really real? I admire the folks who are strong enough to let their true colors show regardless of where they are or who they’re with. The “take me as I am” kind of folks. But most of us hide the most sensitive parts of ourselves, whether because of social pressures or due to a defense mechanism. If there is one thing Covid-19 has revealed it is the “really real” humanity or inhumanity of us all. Still, it’s a pleasure to see more positives than negatives. And it seems to me that even the rather negative aspects of human nature comes down to masks of bravado disguising the fear we all feel. We dislike feeling vulnerable, powerless, no longer in control. Not that we’re ever really in control, except for our own reaction to a circumstance or situation. Perhaps one of the silver linings in this pandemic is the unmasking of people as a whole and of individuals as well; the unraveling of illusion. When push comes to shove true colors are revealed. Perhaps, when all is said and done, we will have a better grasp on who we are as individuals, as people and hopefully, have a better grasp on reality.
“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
It is so very easy to judge, isn’t it? So easy to allow fear, anger, and the blame game to take control. I am so disturbed by the ongoing penchant to blame China for the present pandemic. Memes on social media scold the country for eating “gross, contaminated sh*t” . Let’s take a step back, shall we?
Let me tell you a little bit about me. I was born and raised in Newfoundland & Labrador – Canada’s most eastern province. I grew up in a rural area on the island of Newfoundland. Visitors (tourists) to the province were often surprised by local culture, especially cuisine. Many would perhaps say that some foods are “gross”. While many people who visit my native province thoroughly enjoy the hospitality, music, and the sense of humor that is unique to people there, others cannot understand the culture or the way of life. Back in the day there were many jokes that denigrated the people and the province, labeling us as “stupid Newfs”. So, perhaps that has made me more sensitive to prejudices of any kind – including those that disparage the Chinese people, having experienced unfair and untrue labeling myself.
Labels are something I resist mightily. I believe we are all one race – the human race, regardless of what we call ‘home’. I believe we are all connected and we need to face this pandemic together, after all it is no respecter of borders or false divisions such as the color of our skin or our religious leanings, or whether we practice any particular spirituality at all. As my mother would have said, “try walking a mile in their shoes”. When we refuse to practice empathy or compassion. When we are unkind. When we allow racist statements and ideas to take root, we ALL lose. That is a more dangerous contagion than that of the virus itself. It leads to hardened hearts. It leads to hate. It leads to divisions and ultimately to fighting and to war.
Let us focus on fighting this pandemic. Let us have faith in the ingenuity and intelligence of human kind, and in its inherent goodness. Let us have faith in a power much greater than our own, a higher power.
“Faith is the strength by which a shattered world shall emerge into the light”. – Helen Keller
In less than a month Christmas will be upon us. For those of us who have close family ties and friends to share our days it can be a day of pure joy. For those who do not, well, it can be a time of great loneliness and pain. Christmas tends to have great focus on family, as it should, but often in our hurry and scurry we forget how hard this time of year can be on people who do not share in our blessings, for whatever reason. I am trying to be cognizant of this fact.
I have been immersed in reading a series of books called “The Angelic Letters”. The series includes seven books focusing on Christianity; on family; on morals and values; on the “L” word and what it means to each of us. It is a very insightful series written by Henry K. Ripplinger moving from the mid 1950s through to present days. Although at times I find it a bit preachy it is also inspiring and at times very hard to put down (hence my silence of late).
For many of us as the Christmas season approaches we turn again to that centuries old prayer of ‘peace on earth, goodwill to all’. Many of us turn with compassion to our fellow citizens who are suffering many burdens. It is easy to give up, to be overwhelmed by the great need we see all around us – both in our own communities and in the world at large. Yet, small efforts can bring huge rewards (even if we often do not see them). We never know what our small gifts may mean to someone who is carrying heavy loads. To love our neighbor doesn’t mean making grand gestures. Quite often, and, I would say 99.9% of the time it is the small gifts we bring: a smile; looking a person in the eye and recognizing their humanity; little things like a hot coffee on a cold day, perhaps. The thing is, we do not have to spend any money at all to bring Christmas cheer to another. The best gifts we can give come from our hearts, not our wallets. But, by all means, if we have the financial wherewithal to do so, we should do that as well.
Divine One, as we celebrate this sacred season, help us act with love and true humanity. Help us recognize the divinity that lays at the essence of each and every human heart. And let us not be afraid to utter the “L” word.
On the surface
Maybe I am disheveled, unkempt
On the surface
Maybe I exude beauty, perfect face, perfect hair
On the surface
Maybe I appear haughty or cold
On the surface
Maybe I appear frightened or shy
On the surface
Maybe I appear approachable, welcoming
On the surface
Maybe I seem unfriendly and angry
On the surface
I may appear to be many things
But it’s all on the surface
You do not know me
You know not my joys or trials
My challenges, my pleasures
You do not know me
Why do you judge me?
You think you know me
You do not
You know my surface
But not my tender underbelly
Or tender heart
That I protect
With angry scowls
To keep you away
It’s only surface living
That you see
You do not know me
Or the depth of my being
Or the depth of any human being
If all you see,
All you know,
Is on the surface
photo credit: Pixabay
Is there anything sadder than the sight of homeless people struggling through the wind and snow? Recently we had to make the trip to Edmonton yet again for medical reasons. Two men captured my attention and my concern. One was standing near a busy intersection with a cardboard sign in his hands: “Fallen on hard times, please help”, it said. It was cold and dark. Winter is upon us. He wasn’t very old but his frame was stick-thin and I suspect he fell on hard times long ago and has yet to find a way out. We were in the far lane and would not have been able to stop as much as I wanted to. The image of this young man is burned into my brain. He didn’t seem much older than my own son and he haunts me. We don’t have a lot. We are far from wealthy by any stretch of the imagination. But we have food, clothing, and shelter. We do not have to stand out on the street in all kinds of weather hoping for help; subsisting on the kindness of others. I feel so helpless and all I can do for this young man is pray for him.
My reaction to a second man, to my shame, was initially fear. I had gone outside to move the car to a handicapped parking space as they were all full when we first arrived. As I put the car in reverse, I saw a man motioning in my rear-view mirror. I wasn’t sure if he was attempting to get my attention or not. I cautiously opened the door as he approached while a litany of past news stories of car jackings and much worst rolled through my mind like some kind of horrific power point presentation. My fear was ordering me to close and lock the door; to ignore this man until he went away. I didn’t. Instead I looked up into his face wondering what he could possibly want.
What he wanted was help. He told me a story about his car being broken into and the thief making off with his belongings, including his wallet with all his credit cards, debit card, and identification. He asked if I could please give him enough money for a few litres of gas and a meal. But I had left my purse and belongings in our room – I hadn’t planned to do anything other than move the car. I apologized and explained I had no money on me, nor a debit card either. His expression told me he didn’t believe me. He walked away and I reversed out of the space. I parked in the desired space fear still niggling at me. I searched the parking lot for him but he had disappeared. Was his story true? I don’t know. But he was a human being in need of help – help I could not offer, at least not initially. I had thought to go up to our room and come back down with perhaps a hot coffee and money. I am the type of person who needs time to process information before making a decision – my decision came too late. He was gone. As I walked back to the hotel, I searched the parking lot and street. There was no sign of him anywhere.
Homelessness can happen to anyone anywhere and at any time. Life can be so precarious, especially for those battling addictions or mental illness. It is regrettable that my initial reaction is fear. I am trying to overcome that. I work at a library where several regular patrons are homeless. I have no fear of any of them and never have. Yet, a stranger, a homeless stranger, still triggers my flight or fight response. I think a lot of that is due to portrayal in media and movies of homeless people as being dangerous and not to be trusted. That needs to change. For now I pray, for that young man, for the man in the parking lot, and for myself: Please, God, help me overcome it. And please, Divine One, help those who are trapped in the unfortunate circumstance of homelessness.
Several years ago, I was studying journalism and as part of the program we students were tasked with creating and writing a blog – of which this is a continuation. I had decided to make the nucleus of my blog human rights. My instructor wanted to know why I chose that as the key reference point for my blog.
Now, I have never traveled outside of Canada. The knowledge I have gleaned about human rights and the abuse of same has totally come from books and newspaper stories and from people I have met. I grew up in rural Newfoundland, on Canada’s east coast, not a locale well known for human rights activity. However, I was also raised Roman Catholic and the emphasis on brotherly, sisterly love and the ‘golden rule’ was often preached at the school I attended as a child. Added to that was my mother’s faith and belief in the equality of people everywhere – regardless of skin color, religion, or nationality. I took these messages to heart.
When I was eleven years old the family moved to Ontario. I experienced “culture shock”, if you can call it that. I was horribly homesick. I missed my classmates, the sisters who taught me at my old school, and the ocean that cradled our island home and the trees that surrounded it. Added to these challenges was the horrid bullying that made going to school a miserable experience for me. Yet, I am thankful for it because I learned what it feels like to be judged on where you’re from and to be stigmatized and labeled. It made me passionate about speaking out for others who may be experiencing unjust behaviors based on the color of their skin, religious belief, or their nationality.
I also remember watching the television commercials that showed images of starving children and the abject poverty so many were living in, when I was just a child myself. It ripped my heart to pieces to think of children living in squalor and hunger.
I believe passionately in human rights; in the just distribution of wealth; that every person deserves dignity; that we are indeed sisters and brothers of millions of different mothers and fathers, but one human family nonetheless.
I am grateful to live in Fort McMurray, a city populated by peoples from all over the world. I may not have it in my power to change the world. But I hope I do all I can to make my little corner of the world a happier, better place for my neighbours, family, and friends. For “there, but for the grace of God, go I’.
Let your ‘self’ go
Let the ego that babbles
Let your ‘self’ go
It’s not all about you anyway
The world is full of hurting people
Go help someone
Get out of your head
Take a step
Open eyes see
What ‘self’ denies
Too caught up in ego-driven goals
Pushing for what?
No one knows
Let your ‘self’ go
And understanding dawn
Let your ‘self’ go
Then you will see
The beauty of humanity
For when we stop to lend a hand
Fear slinks away
The ego, too
And then you’ll find
The inner ‘you’
It is difficult not to despair when the news seems to be so chock-full of injustices perpetrated on people from all around the world. I am clinging to my belief in the goodness of humanity, but just barely. When I read stories of cruelty, abuse, torture and the like my heart falls to my feet. But isn’t that what despots and egomaniacs are hoping for? To make us bend to their control? To make us lose hope? A broken people are much easier to control. Everything is me shouts a resounding ‘NO!’ I will NOT lose hope!
I do believe in a just and loving Creator. I believe we are all imbued with that same loving spirit, regardless of nationality, the color of our skin, or the religion we espouse. Unfortunately, the gift of free will allows many to subjugate this spirit. Yet, I see daily the evidence of goodness, compassion, and kindness. At the library where I work at the front desk, situated across from a bay of public computers, I watch patrons interact with one another. Often perfect strangers aid one another with computer issues, or show a new patron what to do to release a print job. It is heartening. Yes, there are cruel people, but there are also gentle and kind souls. People who are willing to help their fellow citizens – whether here at home or those who travel afar to offer service to those in other lands.
When I am feeling a bit down and disappointed with how cruel the world has become I hear an answer deep in my soul. It comes from the Christmas Carol, “I heard the Bells on Christmas Day”. It was written by Henry W. Longfellow in 1864 and these particular verses resonate with me:
“And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
God is not dead nor does He sleep
For Christ is here, his spirit near
Brings peace on earth good will to men…”
Throughout history there has been cruelty, but there has also been great love. I write this to remind myself of that fact. I will just leave this quote here:
‘When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it – always.’ M.K. Gandhi
The mystery of ancestry
“There are many people who could claim and learn from their Indian ancestry, but because of the fear their parents and grandparents knew, because of past and present prejudice against Indian people, that part of their heritage is clouded or denied.”
–Joseph Bruchac, ABENAKI
In 2013 I learned that one of my great grandmothers was a Mi’kmaq woman. This all came about in 2008 when the Mi’kMaq nation in Newfoundland & Labrador were finally recognized by the Canadian government and struck a deal to become a landless band under the Indian Act. Many families, mine included, began investigating birth, marriage, and census records. My cousin did much of the work and found evidence in the census of the early 1900s. It came in the form of my grandfather’s brother admitting he was a Mi’kmaq descendant. However, I do not know if it was his mother or grandmother who was Mi’kmaq. I know his mother’s name, but not my great, great grandmother’s. It saddens me.
In 1949 the Dominion of Newfoundland became a province of Canada. At that point in time the federal government was in the midst of negotiations with several First Nations bands. Because the leader of Newfoundland & Labrador, Joey Smallwood, wanted to join confederation he vehemently denied there were any indigenous peoples there, in order to reassure the federal government they would not have to face the same challenges there.
For all intents and purposes indigenous peoples were discriminated against in every corner of the country. It was no different in Newfoundland, where indigenous people were forced to hide their identity in order to gain employment. This, coupled with past colonial biases, and patriarchy, meant that many Mi’kmaq people denied who they were and identity became a closely guarded secret in many families, including mine.
Unfortunately, I have little information regarding my native ancestors, their culture and ways of life are foreign to me. However, I have always held certain sympathies with indigenous peoples around the world, long before I knew the truth of my own heritage. This is partly due to the way I was raised, but also, I think, to the mysteries of ancestry. There has been much written about cellular memory and I cannot help but feel there is truth to the thought that our ancestor’s experiences are written in our DNA. It certainly explains the phenomenon of déjà vu!
I have learned more about the Mi’kmaq people since 2013, and have much more to discover. I am grateful to have made the connection, thanks to my cousin’s hard work and generous sharing of information.
I attribute my passion for nature, the environment and human rights to my Mi’kmaq ancestors. For although I never knew them their innate connection to the earth and collective cultural ways do live on through the mystery of ancestry.
“Oh Great Spirit, today I am ready for You to use me as a channel of Your peace. Let my walk today be visible so the people will say “There goes a Man of God.” I want to know what He knows. If they ask, I will tell them to go out into the wilderness and pray for You to guide them.” – Native Prayer