Category Archives: thoughts

The Tale of I



Before starting forward, I must pause to look back to see from whence I have come and all that lies behind me, in case anything unsavoury should choose to creep up on me and drag me back again.

My history up until this moment has been defined mostly by environmental factors. To tell the story in factual conciseness would be to ignore the emotional – or spiritual – importance contained in the experience. And so I resort to parable to tell the tale of I.

There were two siblings, Abel and I, and both were servants of the gods of Choice. I scoured the earth looking for fruits with which to please her gods, but the Season was a Hard one, and the only vegetation that she could find were Bitter. Abel, though, being the elder of the two, had a flock of small lambs that were given to him for protection. To appease his gods, Abel sacrificed the little lambs and grew strong and prosperous.

I came home to discover the little ones had been butchered, their innocence bloody and lifeless under his hands. She tried to restore life to the innocent, shook their still forms, and whispered words of prayer. But the lambs would not move, and they were Lost.

I ran to the mountains to howl out accusations against Abel for all to hear. But the gods and people would not hear her. More lambs were sacrificed, and more blood was shed. I became angry and shouted out hateful things to Abel and to his supporters, to make them see that what had been done was wrong.

Finally, Abel and I were brought to trial by the People to decide whose case was Just. They observed Abel, repentant now, and said, “Behold how Abel suffers under his sacrifice! Let us Forgive him! Let us exalt him! But lo, look how I angers! Look at her hatefulness! She is one to be supressed! Let us exile her! Let us banish her from our sight, that she may not remind poor Abel of his sacrifice!”

And so I was cast out, to roam the earth alone. And she was angry. In her anger she put the Mark of Cain upon her arm, and it spread across her body, contaminating her. And those she met in exile saw the Mark of Cain and were afraid.

I lived alone for many years. Sometimes she reached out to others, but after a time the Mark upon her body would remind her of the untrustworthy nature of man, and she would withdraw, sometimes betraying before she could be betrayed.

And so I lived alone in the wilderness until she met another, with an unseeable Mark upon his body, a Mark in his eyes. And he took I, and walked with her for a time, until she was able to walk on her own, and then the other, with the Mark in his eyes, followed after her.

And I was not alone.

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Cathedral


I almost had a panic attack for the first time in over a year.  Usually these attacks spring from some feeling of anxiety or an overwhelming emotional experience induced by something small and almost insignificant, like a colour or a phrase.  Today it was an Anglican Cathedral.

This particular cathedral was built in the 1840’s in the centre of a small but developing city.  Today it looks alien amidst a background of commerce.  It is surrounded by a forest of sky-scrapers and is an anachronistic reminder of a calmer age… a lost age.

‘Twas the topmost cross that first caught my attention, an outcry of black upon a blue sky. I struggled to make out the shape of it, encircled as it was by brass or  iron or some other blackened metal.  My gaze followed the cross downwards across  the roof of the tower, an octagonal structure, and down to the stained-glass windows.  These windows took the shape of what appeared to be a lily, a three looped image proudly pronouncing something that I was not yet able to hear.  Then suddenly I recognized in the shape the outline of an old friend’s tattoo, and immediately thought about what that tattoo symbolized: body, mind, spirit.

More thoughts raced through my mind, some of which tripped along their journey, slowing them to a rate at which I could appreciate them: thoughts on Kierkegaard, my tattooed friend,  and the man who mugged me several months ago.

My gaze traveled lower on the cathedral, and sculptured screaming faces stared back at me.  Their voiceless agony pierced through me, and I felt like a video camera, panning in for an extreme closeup of these lips, these noses, these eyes.  They were distorted in a disturbing way by gaping holes left in the limestone over a hundred years of Canadian weather had so efficiently cut away.

I felt the attack come over me, and for a moment I started to hyperventilate.


Art Gallery Hop


I had a great time at work yesterday, organizing and leading an Art Gallery Hop.  I took four of my students to view the art in several local art galleries in the Exchange District, taking the bus to the heart of downtown, and then walking from gallery to gallery.  It was a great opportunity to not only discuss art created by local artists, but also to discuss  the history of the city.

I had called the galleries in advance, so they knew we were coming, and some owners were especially eager to share their love of art with my students, taking them behind the scenes in the workshops where they do custom framing and where several exhibits sat waiting to be put on display.

Before we had finished our tour, each student had found a piece of artwork that especially resonated within them. 

One of my students loved a group of 4 multi-media pieces, one blue, one green, one black, and one red.  They looked kind of like branches to me, and she said the reason she liked them so much was because how well they all fit together. 

 Another student was particularly drawn to a painting of an Eden-like setting, full of different kind of animals.  The closer you looked at the painting, the more creatures you could see. 

Another student was in love with all things dragons, and there was a painting made entirely of tiles, with little bits of black on them.  When all of these tiles were set together, they took on the form of a regal looking black dragon.

The last student had two favourites.  One was an etching of a frozen river, where many stories were intersecting.  The more attention you paid to the piece, the more stories you could see.  There were also some well-known landmarks in the background, and my student remarked, “This one is all about US.”

The other painting this student particularly enjoyed was a painting of a woman in a red coat.  Her back was turned to the audience, and her face was hidden.  She looked like she was waiting for maybe a taxi, but the background was also hidden in darkness.  She told me she liked this painting because you could tell what it was, not like some of the other abstract paintings that surrounded it.  We talked about it for a bit, and I tried to help her see that this picture was telling a story, just like the abstract ones, and that what it was could change depending on the story you created for it.

My favourite painting was a symbolic piece.  I didn’t even get the significance until one of students pointed it out.  At first it looked like a human breaking out of an egg, until this student pointed out that the egg from which it was hatching was actually the world, and that the breaking out of the egg was destroying the world.  We looked at it again, from a different perspective, and it appeared that the arm of the person was coming out of North America, and that it was North America who was destroying the earth while an emmaciated woman stood by with an arm raised, watching.

I want to do this again, perhaps in the summer, with another group of students.  It was particualarly rewarding, and this experience may very well be my favourite activity we led at work over the holidays.


Resolutions


As the year slowly dies down like the last embers in my fireplace, I sit here with my loved ones and reflect not only on the past, but also on the future.  And as it seems to be the trendy thing to do now, my family and I sat down and discussed our Bucket Lists, and I came up with the following 25 Thing to Do Before I Die.  In no particular order, here they are:

1. Go to the West Edmonton Mall.

As a child, I remember seeing frequent advertisements for the West Edmonton Mall  between my favourite cartoon shows.  For me, this place is like the Canadian Disneyland, and I would love to experience it.

2. See the Rocky Mountains.

I’ve never actually seen mountains before, but I’ve seen pictures.  Also, while studying a poem by T.S. Eliot, I was told by one of my profs that people who lived in valleys at the foot of the mountains often suffered from severe depression, since the mountains block out a lot of the sun.  I’d like to see that, to experience that kind of power.

3, Go Whale Watching.

Several years ago, when I went to Mexico, I swam with dolphins and was surprised and disappointed by their size.  I had always imagined them to be bigger.  So now, I want to see the real big ocean guys: whales.

4. Go Parasailing.

I’m afraid of heights, but I’ve done a lot of things I was afraid of, and I think I’d walk away from this one in total awe of the experience.

5. Try surfing.

I’ve gone “body surfing” (kind of) on the rolling waves in Costa Rica, but I think it would be fun to try it on a board.

6. Go to London and walk down the city streets.

I am an avid reader of Victorian Fiction and would love to walk down the same streets as some of my favourite characters.

7. See old Bedlam

Just because.

8. Visit Stonehenge.

I imagine that this would be a powerful experience.  Also, this where is the final scene between Tess and her love takes place, after the red dripping from the ceiling….

9. Visit Ireland to feel the faeries.

I find that Ireland and Canada share many aspects of colonialism, and I relate strongly to some of  the mythology of the country.

10. Read and Understand “Finnegan’s Wake” by James Joyce.

I’ve already attempted “Ulysses” and understood parts of it.  But “Finnegan’s Wake” is still far beyond my comprehension.  I had a well annotated edition in my Norton Anthology, and it took me half an hour to get through the first paragraph.

11. Walk under Niagra Falls.

When I was in grade 7,  my class traveled by bus to Toronto.  We stopped by Niagra Falls, but only looked at it from a distance and then went to a lame ass water park that wasn’t even open.  I want to go back and get a close-up look of the Falls.

12. Visit Prince Edward Island.

Because of Anne of Green Gables.

13. Visit the Reading Room of the London Library.

I want to walk down the same aisles that George Eliot and Charles Dickens walked down, and sit in the same chairs that Reardon sat in in Gissing’s New Grub Street.

14. Go to B.C.

I want to see the huge redwood forests.

15. Drive and walk up/down Magnetic Hill and experience the illusion first hand.   Walk a little way into the bush and find out when and where it ends.

16. Peruse the Louvre.

This is just something I’d like to experience.

17. Publish some writing.

Maybe a novel.  Maybe a collection of short stories.  Maybe an obituary.

18. Go to Churchill and see the polar bears.

Bears have a strong personal significance to me.  They are incredibly potent symbols of spiritual teachers, and I would love to see a polar bear in its natural environment.

19. Experience a full day of darkness in the Arctic.

It’s an aspect of Canadian Experience I would like to have a part in.

20. Ride a train.

When I was a kid I hopped trains in town, but I’ve never actually been on a passenger train, even though my father, as a former employee of CN rail, has access to a VIA rail train pass to anywhere in Canada.

21. See the real Prairie.

I’ve never been further West than Winnipeg, and I’d like to see the rolling hills and complete flatness of Saskatchewan.

22. Go Sailing.

It looks fun.  And I like water things.

23. See a giraffe.

24. Taste a huckleberry.

I don’t even know what a huckleberry is.

25. Learn from a Buddhist monk, a Rabbi, a Priest, and an Imam.

Preferably in one room.  At the same time.


Back to Work I Go


Yesterday was my first day back at work after the holidays.  At first I was a little reluctant to go, not wanting to leave the warmth of my bed and of my home.  It’s hard to go to work, even when you love your job, when you’re so entirely content at home.

Once I got there, though, I was glad to be back.  I was able to connect with a kid I haven’t seen since October, played some rugby (badly) with her, and was able to invite her to some other holiday break activities.  We sat around drinking hot chocolate and eating chili, and then she turned to me and  said, very casually, “You’re coming to the talent show, right?”

One of the high schools I work out of is hosting a Talent show.  Apparently a  TA class is organizing it, and had auditions before the break.  I hadn’t even known that this kid tried out, but she did, and she was awarded with a place in the show.  She’ll be singing a Mary J. Blige song in February in front of the whole school, and I was honoured that she wanted me to be there to support her.  I felt very much like a proud parent.

These little things mean so much to me.  I love my kids, I love my job, and I love my life.


You Should Not Bear the Cross


I’ve had a very excellent Christmas this year, full of celebration and reflection.  Thinking of the person I was and the person I have become led me to reread many of the  posts on my “myspace blog”.  I read the self-righteous and venomous words that scorched the pages (or rather the screen, I suppose), and could not believe that those were my thoughts.

And yet, I do lament the amount of spiritual messages, the outpouring of my psyche from the chaos, that I experienced then and do not seem to experience now.  Post after post of prophesy screaming to me from my subconscious self misunderstood and misinterpreted!  That screaming has quieted, perhaps because I’ve heard and understood.  I need to focus on remembering to hear myself now, even when all feels well and the screaming is reduced to pleasant murmuring.  It’s too easy to forget the murmur.

One post that especially resonated within me was the day I had had a strange outburst in the shower, and cried out, “You should not bear the cross for he who dies upon the stone!”  At the time, it was merely a thought that came to me and I didn’t understand what I meant.  I didn’t understand where it came from.  I just knew that it was true.

I later imagined I had meant that I shouldn’t take responsibility for a former friend of mine when I felt she had sacrificed herself to her hedonistic drives.  I thought that this meant I should tear myself from her and end the friendship, that I ought not to be a martyr and sacrifice my well-being for this individual.  This is what I did (terribly self-righteously!).

But now I’m re-investigating the interpretation of this phrase and I’ve found that both parts of this phrase (the cross and the stone) are unmistakably Christian.  The Stone is not “pagan”, but rather represents the foundation of the Church, which are the teachings of the Anointed One.  I’ve even found a Biblical verse which seems to reflect the phrase exactly:

“And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.” -Matthew 21:44.

And the cross I should not bear was not literally carrying another’s burden, but rather following a leader who was unable to withstand the stone, the teaching, his own ideas, who was false and a hypocrite… Myself.  And not only myself!  It was a call to examine the nature of my reality more closely, to look at things carefully before making quick judgements.

This call came out again and again.  And again and again I misunderstood and misinterpreted, redirecting personal responsibility and believing that everyone in the world was either stupid or evil, and that I myself remained uncorrupted and aloof.

I’m not sure where exactly I’m going with this.  I certainly don’t feel this way anymore, and furthermore, I don’t feel like I have anything to prove when it comes to my own spirituality.  I’m not wary of sounding neo-pagan, and I’m not worried about sounding Christian.  I’m not concerned that others will misunderstand me and classify me as a madman.

Spirituality to me is merely one way of expressing in figurative language all of the truths that I cannot name, and if I use metaphors others have used, it’s no different than using a language another has invented to communicate the commonplace happenings of my Experience.

And I think that is the substantial difference between the I that was and the I that is.


In the Midst of Tragedy


 

I witnessed the aftermath of what must have been a horrible crash on my way to work this morning.  I also think I saw my first dead body.

As we approached the traffic lights, we noticed that there was a silver car parked off to the side.  Four civilians stood in a line, blocking traffic and forcing everyone to turn left.  Past the civilians was a school bus, slanted across the road, and in front of that school bus was a woman in a red coat, lying motionlessly in the middle of the street.  A man dressed in black was bent over her, but no police or ambulance had yet arrived.

And in the midst of this very real, very terrible moment, I could think of only the little girl in red from Schindler’s List.