Second Chances

There was an article in 1998 that warned young reporters were getting their careers turned around by getting too involved with their stories, sometimes even making up details.  I know it seems like a simple case of common sense to just not do either, but if you’re in touch with emotions and recording certain events, that’s not always an easy thing.

When I did write for a paper, as a correspondent in the wilds of northwestern Ontario 20 yrs ago, I experienced something similar. Despite the seemingly tranquil setting of an aurora borealis framed mini mecca of 600, called Pickle Lake, I actually wrote quite a variety of stories around events that would rival any city. To be fair, there were another 600 or so in small areas around the town.

My ‘beat’ covered a collection of assaults, robberies, and murder, and my community profiles provided just as much color.  All of this belies the fact that despite that record, most people in the area couldn’t be a stronger, kinder, and more generous humankind sample.

I expect I’ll write more about the experiences of Pickle Lake, but for now, I want to recount one story that I wrote then, that I wish I could re-write now.

One of my favorite “P.L.” adventures, that took even me by surprise, was joining the town’s volunteer ambulance service.  I studied the necessary courses until I qualified, completed by also getting the license to drive the ‘bus, which incidentally also qualifies you to drive an actual bus.

One of the senior Attendants was a fellow by the name of Dave Halteman.  Dave was one of those friendly folksy type that make a name for themselves by being ready to help anyone, any time. He owned the local auto repair and service station, which also served as the base for all kinds of local rescue.  I think one of his favorites was pulling my car out of a few snowbanks and ditches on those bitter winter roads, and for the record, local jeer-ers, I was not the only one.

Dave was up for anything, which he was called to do often, but most of his town volunteering was devoted to the fire and ambulance departments. He did a fantastic job assisting the oversight of those critical services.  Of course, it goes without saying those jobs take some bravery, and it turned out his personal bar was set at -quite high-.

He willingly took on the job to train a skinny, completely citified, 115 lb. greenhorn. Think about what it would take to teach that winning combo how to hoist a 95 lb. stretcher holding a 200 lb. patient into the back of an ambulance and then drive back to the clinic without skidding off the icy roads, and without breaking a nail.  Yeah, he was cool with priorities like that.

Dave’s easygoing nature didn’t mean easy; he made for darn sure I knew we were working for lives, for real.  Luckily, his patience level was set at -infinite-, because I definitely tested that bar too.  When I bungled, I got a stare which I would answer with my own mortified gape. Then this laugh would ring out.  Anyone who ever heard it, would agree – one of a kind.  Infectious. Unforgettable.

Whoever was treated to that laugh was also served by his decency.  He made a friend out of pretty much everyone who crossed his path because of his honest belief in ‘do unto others’.  Despite all the heroics of his emergency work, this was probably what earned him the most and deepest regard overall.  To say he was beloved to many is not an overstatement, his personality filled a town.

So on that December day, when the news came that his plane went down on the way home from a hunting trip, shock reverberated throughout the region.  No one could believe it and no one wanted to. Many of us held hope that there’d been a mistake. We would learn that the crash took not only Dave, but also his endearing and respected son-in-law, Everett Moore.  Ev was soft-spoken, tall, handsome, filled with kindness, and so young.

Pickle Lake Tree Cross - 2The town became still in the days that lead up to the funeral service. As everyone struggled to comprehend that what happened was real, the two caskets at the front of the community hall laid down all hope for good.

Those of us who served with Dave were privileged to stand in observance as his Honour Guard. The hall seats filled quickly, and everyone else stood outside on a bright, but frigid day listening through speakers.  There were several hundred who stood in that biting cold for the entire service and the interment.  I’m sure desire for relief from that cold was strong, but it couldn’t overcome the desire to pay those deeply felt respects.

The town took a while to rev back to some kind of normal. We learned there was a lot of navigating to figure out how to carry on without the steady assurances and answers of Dave.  We did though, because in many ways, the footprints he laid down were clear enough for us to follow, and so he still shaped worthwhile aspects of our own capabilities.

I wish I could have written all this in that memoriam story years ago, but I was too involved in my own grief. I couldn’t get myself to the place that does justice to the role of reporting, and in service to people who knew he deserved so much more.

I hope what I can put down now, this little bit more, will add to the legacy of how well Dave and Ev impacted people.

One last thing still bears saying too.  For a long time, many of us would often say how we’d give anything to hear that Dave laugh again.  The truth is, I still do, and I believe that whenever we think of him, most of us still do.

RL.

PostScript: I also owe a debt of gratitude to former Managing Editor, Thunder Bay Chronicle, Nick Hirst, for helping me cobble together the part of the story I did then.

Posted in Inspiration, Life, Reporting, Storytelling, Tribute, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 18 Comments

Someone to Watch Over Me…

It wasn’t a typical love story then and I suppose its not so much now either, at least not the kind we think about in this season of Valentine wishes and dreams.

broken flower 3jpgYou have to be this young to believe that you are this much in charge of life; that destiny has already been completely met.  To know that the only education you need to make your dreams come true is your own thoughts and a chat with your friends –  to be so heartbreakingly unaware of the precariousness  that will haunt even the babies to come.

She was a naive, pretty, eighteen year old small town girl who had no idea that so many of her dreams were going to turn into a lifetime of regrets.  She picked out her dream man, 20 years old, so very handsome and tall, and who held out to her a bouquet of the loveliest promises.

Not long after meeting, she became pregnant and it probably wasn’t much longer after that, that the first flower from that fragile bouquet fell.   The images her thoughts weaved for her future were simple, but meant everything – little home wrapped in the white picket fence of love, happiness, security, and lovely family dinners, family picnics and parties, and Christmas trees loaded with gifts.

She had intended so many occasions of wonderful for herself, and for me.  We were supposed to be that family that she envied in the movies, the love stories that she placed herself into in her favorite books, and in those images in Norman Rockwell paintings that confirmed how life was supposed to be. Sweet dreams sweet intentions.

They were slapped away brutally.  Literally.  He wasn’t ready for that dream.  Not at that time, not completely, maybe never.   He was more drawn to the calls of a wild party.  He had many more bottles to hoist up, and while he ‘owned’ her, he was nowhere near finished with his explorations of women.   Her resistance to ‘his way’ led to her learning that promises were only his dreams in the moment and they were nowhere near as real as those first black eyes.

I don’t know when I first heard or saw him hit her; I can remember that only from about age four.  I know that when it happened, I became very still as my heartbeat filled my ears.  I must have learned by then to make myself invisible.  The only way she could make herself invisible was to run away.   Some might say she didn’t learn how to do that right soon enough.  She did leave, many times, but somehow he would find her.  Us.  Sometimes her friends would tell him where we were; sometimes even her own brothers would sell her out during drunken party conversation or under threat.  Sometimes the loneliness and fear conquered her and she would call him herself.  She finally left for good when I was thirteen.

She didn’t leave her dreams though.  Not all of them anyway.  She still thought she could find that one good man. That’s how life was supposed to be.  Wasn’t that ever reinforced on every song on the radio, TV shows and magazine headlines?  So that’s what she pursued, even while the rest of her life was floating in a jumbled mess around her.

She had her share of boyfriends for some years, but no one could last for long.   They either owned their share of chaos and/or they couldn’t bear to deal with hers.  It would take years for the stars to align for her.  Maybe it was all the prayers she cried through to be delivered from that loneliness and to fill the need for someone to watch over her, because he came for her, finally.

It was not the typical script for a ‘let me rescue you’ love story.  He was just as messed up as she was, but somehow, eventually, this one wanted to get it together, with her, at the same time that she had reached her breaking point.

Somehow, armed only with whatever bit of guidance that was to come their way, they pushed through all the debris of their lives and rebuilt everything.  They did as best as they could, which turned out to be very well.  Their turned-around lives are far richer, and have lasted three times longer, so far, than their early trek over those fiery, alcohol-fueled coals.

Now she prays, hard and often, that her lessons of recovery from hell have been seen by her children, and their children, who learned all too well the modeled example of her youth.

Dreams do come true, but not from behind the wall of recriminations, isolated introspection, and avoidance.  The answers could be easy, but it’s still  work to carve out the road to them.  This can’t be any harder than it is to stay in pretension that all is well, to stay in hell.

I will pray that her prayers are answered for her. Again.

RL

Posted in Abuse, Alcoholism, family, Inspiration, love, Storytelling, Valentines | Tagged , , , , , | 21 Comments

Roads that Twist Love

Have you ever come across someone who could break your heart, no matter how far away from them you could get?

Sister MirrorI had a best friend like that; no matter how often we did or didn’t speak, she could somehow open a wound just by existing.  I know that sounds odd, but all those years ago, when we once were so close, the bitterness of her wounds began to run too deep and widely.

It’s been years since I was last within her grasp, but even now I never know who I will run across or when something will let me know that her reach may be interminable; infinite maybe.  Probably.

Her ways back then were so needy.  She needed to be the biggest, the best, the most regarded, and the only.  She jealously guarded her needs.  She would place herself squarely in front of whoever was to be her latest trophy for career advancement, for recognition, for friends, for love.

I know where those wounds began, I know what they’re from, but what I don’t know is why they became stuck within her, why they screeched a halt to her ability to see with light.  I’m not even certain when that started, but one thing for sure, the child within flat-lined any more emotional development.

She needed special, which was measured according to what was special to someone else.  Coveting, I think that’s what that’s called, except she needed to covet up close and personal.  It really didn’t matter what the source of the glitter that caught her eye: someone else’s community recognition, someone else’s parental praise, someone else’s loves.  Nothing was off limits, as even I would eventually learn.

There were signs when things started heading south for her.  Accusations began to overtake any conversations, then retributions were meted out generously. Punishment of choice -malicious slander and brutal betrayal. Soon anyone near was indicted and we would all get turns at being the source of her poisoned well. Hell hath no fury like un-eased fears.

After a while, despair was not about living off the guilt of who did her wrong; within a few years of committing 6 of the 7 deadly sins, it was completely about how her own guilt was smothering her. The only way to keep ahead of that is to hit, numb, and run.

There was one moment when she realized the source of her pain was really found in a mirror, but it was only a brief dawning.  Besides, time is stopped for the inner child. They believe they have forever to tilt at windmills and they never really see how much the world has kept turning without them.

Someone told me recently how much he had loved her so many years ago.  I know how that felt, when we knew her. I live with the loss of that long ago love too. I don’t hate her – anymore, but I did learn that it’s not necessary for the both of us to drink the poison.

I also now know the opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference.  When we weren’t serving the purpose of total agreement with her, we got to experience her ‘or else’, and we were cast out without second thought. Some of us kept walking. I’d learn that a certain level of indifference was life-saving. Leaving the well to save oneself is not casting a stone upon another.

I don’t think of her every day anymore and I don’t feel that hurt either. Once in a while, I may fleetingly think about that someone I used to know.  I don’t try to understand any of it either. The most I will do now, is simply wish love and good health for her, and to continue in my own journey to move on in the same.

RL

Thank you to some people who inspired me to finally work out years of rumination.  Although I’m pretty sure they don’t know exactly what they said, I hope they’ll see some reflection of the thoughts they shared: Roberta Boulette, Christy, Melanie, and Rachel – Sisters to me, one and all – thanks.

Posted in Abuse, Alcoholism, Life, love, Relationships, Storytelling, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 21 Comments

White Default – This Is Only a Test, But Please Adjust Your Settings Accordingly

Close your eyes and imagine a fire fighter, then a police officer.  Next, imagine Santa Claus.  What do you see?

Imagine, Jesus. Yep, we all saw that same one,  didn’t we?  Long blondish-medium brown locks and blue eyes?  Why is that – when, at the time and place He was born, He would have been the only ‘white’ person in the region?

Let’s take it to another level.

When our eyes are open, look at what we see all around us and what we have seen historically in our:

Fairy tales
Money
Newspaper mastheads
Senate halls
Legislatures
Courthouses
Think of all those portraits along the walls of legislatures, libraries, courthouses that we all walk by
Police stations
Fire Stations
TV shows
Movie stars
Corporate boardrooms
Physicians
Teachers/Professors

Hand circleThis is only the beginning of trying to define our world’s cultural reference point called ‘white default’. This simple exercise of closing eyes to imagine our world in everyday fashion is quite effective for beginning the understanding of why we see things differently.

Despite the origins of people of color in our Western areas and those added willingly or not,  our world is still awash in ‘whiteness’, particularly in positions of authority. We need to be asking why is that and not pass it off with simplistic replies of escapism.

I admit I only heard this term ‘white default’ not that long ago, thanks to a note on Twitter.  It made me realize how deeply the teachings of my life had been ingrained in me without conscious or critical thought.  Which, given some of what I’ve lived as an Indigenous person is saying quite a bit.

I read an article explaining this phenomenon of recent understanding in Salon Magazine called, “How can white Americans be free”?  The writer, Kartina Richardson, said that, “The default belief that the white experience is a neutral and objective one hurts both white and American culture”.  I suggest that’s very applicable to most of the world.   She goes on:

“…The beginning; in the beginning there was Whiteness. This is the glittering starting point. This is The Default. This is what we measure everything else against”.

“Whites are free from the constant awareness (and subsequent constant paranoia) of existing in another person’s world. Because The Default has so successfully dominated our subconscious, because our egos have been shaped by it from the moment of birth, we perpetuate it in micro ways while fighting inequality with more obvious actions”.

We know this though, right? Because we did the eyes closed exercise and saw what we did.

Let’s close our eyes again and this time, let’s imagine all those portraits in those fine institutional halls as brown or black. Pay attention to your reaction as your imagination walks by them.  Now, picture Jesus as black or brown, how does that feel?  Odd, strange, uncomfortable?  And yet, the likelihood that that is how He actually looked is 100%.  Still, that is unacceptable for a large swath of people, Christians or not.  Interesting, no?

It’s that discomfort, one must realize, that is felt every day from the other side of the ‘unwashed’ fence, as in the not whitewashed, people of color.  This is what is at the centre of the differences. It’s only the beginning of why there really isn’t a level playing field for all to prosper and succeed.

Kartina expands the thought as this: “Whiteness as The Default keeps brown people in subjugation by convincing them that every part of their being, physical, spiritual and emotional, exists within a white narrative. When you are made to exist within something you are forced to be smaller than that which contains you. This is precisely the basis of racist thought. Brown existence, brown consciousness is smaller”.

I have certainly come to know what she is talking about.  I have encountered that first-hand, particularly by some people who thought I was getting ‘uppity’ when I began to write about the inequities and misconceptions about Indigenous peoples.  What I wrote was somehow seen as an attack and yet, I merely gave factual details to update old ideas and misconceptions.  Even that much myth-busting was too unsettling for some.

It showed me how strongly some people want to believe in the notion of their worlds, as opposed to what actually is.

How bizarre is it really though, when people of color are told their Creator is really a white guy who was actually born black or brown?

These demands to adhere to the whitewash are currently sealed into the cement of our societies. This is why it is so damned hard to get past the barriers that should not have been there in the first place, especially for the peoples who are the original inhabitants of said lands.  The fear of change and/or difference is at the heart of the need to keep plugging on this issue.

We know change is hard, even for the better. It’s not that white people are being asked to change their visions of Jesus or Santa, but mainly to revise the idea that only their visions can be trusted for themselves and for the rest of the world.

Those are the very thoughts that have created the environments we’ve been working to change for centuries now. This is what affects how people of color may or may not succeed in these standards set by white default.

It means that we have to consciously check our own thoughts and the statements we teach our children with, until that one magical day when the norm for our societies is equal representation in all those areas of everyday life and authority.

If you’re still not convinced that we have to actively pursue true color-blindness when it comes to true equality, check out this latest report published in the New York Times on January 3rd called, “Racial Bias, Even When We Have Good Intentions”.  Even blind tests produce the sadly expected results.

We really need to get to work, people.

RL

Posted in Discrimination, Life, Opinion, Racism, White Default | Tagged , , | 15 Comments

2014 in review – WordPress Summarized My Year – Thanks, WP Monkeys!

Some interesting numbers about where my readers come from, which countries they’re from – 136 so far, and the top five posts, for a start.  This is a fun year-end follow-up.

Thank you to all, for your interest, your support, and your generous kindnesses through 2014.  I wish you the very best of successes in 2015, and look forward to connecting with many more of you.

Cheers!

RL

“The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog”.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 15,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Posted in Life | 20 Comments

Stuff I’ve Learned – Mostly the Hard Way – and I Have the Scars to Prove It. [Hindsight|The Daily Post]

A few years ago I re-joined the ‘Critically Facing Your Mortality Club’. It’s an event that can sort of become semi-normal when you’re challenged with a chronic health issue; in my case, a rare disease that defies prognosis attempts. I know to prepare for some difficulty from time to time, but I wasn’t ready for the words that this time, my life was down to literally, minutes.

Just before I was wheeled into surgery, I was allowed to call my mother to let her know what was happening and to potentially say goodbye. She told me later, she was too shocked to do anything, but slide to the floor. I was good with just being put under -anesthetically.

Clearly I made it through, but at the time, along with an urgent need to update my will, I was desperate about the still very real possibility that I would not be around long enough to teach my then 8 yr. old son about the facts of life.

mom and babyI had so many plans in store to show him how to navigate this world using shortcuts I’d earned through many moments of angst, sweat and heartaches. How could I spare my baby even a bit of this painful journey? ‘Cause, there it was – that in-your-face reality that I couldn’t take for granted the kind of time I thought I had, to show my boy how to live life a little more successfully than me.

True to form, I immediately tried to take notes of my thoughts. I went for the sort of inspiring fashion of ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ by Mitch Albom or ‘The Last Lecture’ by Randy Pausch. Unfortunately, I was seriously impaired by heavy narcotics, a web of wires and myriad tubing, and some seriously constricting leg compression things from ankle to hips. I’m sure I could have written something under the influence, but writing while prone did me in. Figuratively, that is.

Following two months in the ward, my panic induced lesson outline was further inhibited by long recovery, and then distracted by the less galvanizing daily details of getting back to raising my boy and making a living. Also, it’s really not easy to write like, nor as well as, Mitch Albom and Randy Pausch.

Eventually I did fill out my notes and I’m sure that I will keep adding to this list of hard won wins, at least I certainly hope so. I now consider myself a member of the ‘Don’t Take Life for Granted for Real Club’. I am more hopeful that I will help my son and perhaps someone else to shorten a bumpy ride to success. Maybe someone will smile in remembrance of also winning one or more of these lessons.

If I don’t make it to the end date that I have in mind, my son will have a small record of what I would like for him to succeed at. True, it may not be as eloquent as my inspirers, but if it makes the point…

29 Lessons Learned Over & Over a Lifetime

1. Make your life as big as possible – create for yourself many areas of interests and friends. If one piece of the pie breaks down, it’s not the end of the pie. Don’t worry, the missing piece will eventually get filled in, usually in a better way.
2. READ – please always find out what’s happening around you. Learn something new regularly. Reading is decent, enlightening, uplifting &/or heartrending entertainment.
3. You will often be judged, or more likely misjudged, by the way you spell. So learn this and grammar, as much as you can. Spelling & grammar nazis are dying over this post, this very minute.
4. It’s a fact that helping someone else seriously chases away your serious blues. Volunteer for anything. Often.
5. Laugh. Laugh as often as you possibly can – yes, even at a funeral, & especially in a hospital. Know funny.
6. It’s OK to not know something. Don’t be afraid to say I don’t know, (don’t overuse it either, that’s laziness). You can’t learn anything if you spend your time pretending that you already know it. You don’t make great friends doing that either.
7. Don’t lie too big or too often. Let’s face it; we all lie at times to some degree, (yes, your new crazy paisley suit does look um, interesting, boss). If it is indeed relevant, tell the truth. Your heart will know when.
8. You have nothing if you don’t have your word.
9. Behave honorably. Live with integrity. You don’t have to believe in Karma to receive it.
10. Believe in something. Whatever you decide it is, it must be something bigger than you. Universe, God, a cause, a calling to be better in any and all ways.
11. Try to keep your thoughts to yourself for a bit before blurting out something questionable. Oh yeah, sometimes this one hurts – especially if you have to bite your tongue hard. Bite it anyway and reward yourself with a piece of chocolate later. Definitely tastier than crow. Or tofu.
12. Keep any promise you make, so please, don’t make promises lightly.
13. Did I say you have nothing if you don’t have your word?
14. Make sure that you are the friend, lover, spouse, boss, employee, in-law that you want those people to be to you. (If you honestly are and they aren’t, wish them well and walk away – far away if necessary). Both of these steps take practise. Keep practising. Forever.
15. It’s not your job to change anyone. If someone likes how you live, they will follow your behavior and/or adapt it to their own needs if and when they want to.
16. Be very careful about what you say about someone you don’t know. That stranger you just talked to about the jerk down the street is often a friend of the jerk; that twit you flip off in traffic could quite possibly be sitting behind the desk to conduct your next job interview. We say it’s a small world for a reason.
17. Fact check! Make sure you know what you’re talking about. Otherwise preface your statements with, “I heard somewhere”. It turns out that ASS.U.ME saying is absolutely true.
18. Ask for help. You can’t do it all on your own – even if you insanely think that you’re supposed to. That drowning sensation is an accurate cue to ask for help.
19. When you are really stressing, really upset, check yourself to see if this is something that really matters. Really!
20. Apologize when you mess up-which you will if you remain human. Don’t beat yourself up, at least not for too long. Fix what needs fixing. Learn how to not do that again. Carry on.
21. Admit when you are wrong. Own up to it, apologize; gain respect.
22. Don’t try to act cool. You may think you’re getting away with something through some fast talking, but the people around you are definitely employing point #11. Trust me.
23. Deal with what is, not what might be, what may be, what could be. Use the mights, mays, & coulds for emergency or event planning.
24. Be thoughtless… for 10 minutes a day, be still in mind and body. It re-sets your brain. It calms you, and opens up your creativity, sound judgment, and perception abilities. This could be the most important lesson of all.
25. Be wary of appearances. Especially true today with the changing principles of appropriate daily wear. That skateboarder could very well be a Facebook creator and the biggest thieves and crooks wear designer suits.
26. Treat everyone with courteous civility, but wait for them to earn your respect.
27. Eventually, the burned rice marks will fade from the bottom of the pot. Same with scars and fears – if you face them. If needed, hold someone’s hand through that too.
28. Not everyone will like you. Doesn’t matter. That’s OK. You matter. Just continue to live as upright as possible. You will attract people with mutual character. That matters more than popularity. Character will have your back. Popularity will run for the hills the minute your world has some clouds.
29. Read ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ by Mitch Albom or ‘The Last Lecture’ by Randy Pausch.
30. OK, I lied, there are really 30. Say I love you every day. I love you, son.

Postscript: Said son informed me that he liked this note, that it was: “A good job mom, almost as good as my goodbye card that I made for Eric”. I see that I am doing well on the esteem building side of child rearing. Lesson learned.

RL

Written in response to the WordPress Daily Post challenge to re-write our first posts.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/hindsight/

Posted in Achievements, Inspiration, Life, love, Storytelling, Uncategorized, Writing Challenges | Tagged , , , , | 21 Comments

The War On Christmas Started in 1959 – Did You Know That?

The infamous war on Christmas seems like a relatively new event in our modern days of internet posts and Facebook memes, but apparently it started back in 1959.  That would be about 100 years after Christmas became the rendition that we now know, which is quite significantly evolved from the far more somber origins of around 270AD, courtesy Emperor Aurelian.  Our current version is thanks to the imaginings of good old Charles Dickens.

So, for at least 100 years, this British version of Christmas that we now claim as ours, ruled undiminished. Then, this tradition to end all traditions seemingly began to die.

The sense of demise started when the John Birch Society et al, determined there was a strenuous effort to take Christ out of Christmas, not by immigrants, our current concern, but by the God-less Communists.  In 1959, someone introduced decorations with United Nations iconography. The Society, founded in the anti-Communism sentiment of the day, saw threat within those designs and the war was on.  They demanded a boycott of any stores that sold these obviously commie-based decorations.  Makes you wonder if they might’ve brought out actual artillery if they’d got to see our Elvis and KISS inspired ornaments.

The current Christmas wars could be something in theory, but only if we were to ignore all the examples that contradict the labors of this incursion.  The season officially held in December, starts in August now.  (Thanks so much, Costco et al).  By Halloween, next to the ghoulish costume displays are pre-season sales of last year’s Christmas cards and glass ornaments.  By November 1st, we’re in full decorative bloom with every store and mall on the continent swathed in garland and bows.  Seems like a lot of effort for retailers to invest in a dying event.

This is where we should be reminded that Christians are not the only people who celebrate during the weeks of winter solstice. For 6,000 years, cultures have been paying spiritual homage within the diminishing days of the year.  With our relatively new traditions, our continent hosts others, many far older than ours.

So, why don’t we see the celebratory implements for all these other apparently impinging cultures on those same store shelves? Despite our having sizable populations of those various cultures, who can recall seeing Jewish menorahs, Bhodi Day Bhudda icons, Kwaanza decorative mats, or Japanese Oshogatsu  mochi displays on store shelves, much less crowding out the Christmas goods?

mother and child As an aside, I often hear people insist that those moving to North America should adapt fully and only to the Canadian/U.S. traditions, especially Christmas.  I take it that, along with their regular seasonal rituals, they also fully engage in the traditions of the original cultures of the continent? Those would include: healing rituals, tobacco offerings, prayer drumming, ceremonial drumming, and dancing.

Christmas has always been, and still is, a tribute in motion.  In another 100 years it may not look at all like today, but I really don’t see how that would diminish the point of it.  We honour our faiths and gratitude for deep and meaningful reasons that have nothing to do with decorations, gifts, or greetings.

It could also be argued that the other cited example of downfall, saying Happy Holidays, is a way for businesses to remain inoffensive and maximize profits. Likely true, but Happy Holidays is also someone’s way of paying respect to the multi-cultural traditions.  So what?  That has nothing to do with the tradition of Christmas.  Or maybe it does?  Isn’t the idea of inclusion, respect, and kindness toward our fellow beings at the heart of Christian teachings?

This more recent defensive posturing on the meaning of Christmas is purely re-manufactured malarkey by a Fox News blowhard clawing for ratings.  The only way people can allow their God to be removed from their own hearts or holiday, is if they do it themselves, and that was, by and large, the original point of Christ’s teachings.

As far as how the war on Christmas is going, I think we can relax.

Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays to all!

RL

Posted in Christmas, Life, Uncategorized, War On Christmas | Tagged , , , , , | 20 Comments

Big Troubles and a Fence

Being bullied as a kid feels like you’re walking out into a dangerous field that’s surrounded by a big fence electrified by fear. I remember this from when I was nine years old. I’ll always remember because no one forgets their encounters with bullies, ever.

playground 1For whatever reason, in grade four I caught the eye of our school bully. His name was Shane and although we were in the same grade, he was almost a head taller than me. I suppose it’s not surprising that a bully might have sought me out; I was one of the smallest in our class. I’m sure he felt confident I was one of the weakest.

Shane would look for opportunities to push me around and because he was so much bigger than me, it didn’t take much of a push from him to knock me down. He would generally follow that up with slapping me and threatening worse after school. There weren’t many options for me after school, it was either run like hell for home, try to hide behind people as they were walking, or just take the beating while trying to fend off too much damage. Teachers weren’t much involved outside of class in those days and my parents were otherwise occupied with the drama of their own lives.

One Saturday I was heading over to a friend’s a few blocks from home. I had a temporary shortcut because a house between my street and hers had been torn down and I could cut through the now open yard. The only impediment was a fence in the back that I could climb over at the alley.

I started to walk across the yard, but suddenly a shadow caught my eye. Shane stepped out from behind some building debris that I’d just walked by. His face was sheer glee at having me cornered and alone. My mind took in the entire scenario in about eleven seconds. I knew exactly what was in store.

My heart dropped as I watched him slowly stepping toward me with the promise of pure menace. Within those eleven seconds, I figured my only options to get away were to run back by him or run for the fence. As my panic escalated with his every step, it felt like I couldn’t move my feet anyway. I knew I had reached the point of no return.

He got closer and as he raised his hand, instinct took over. I closed my eyes and I ran toward him. Hard. His head being higher than mine was providence; it turned out it was the perfect height for my hands to reach his face, which I blindly pummeled with my fists. Hard and fast.

I heard a cry. I opened my eyes and saw that Shane had stepped back from me. He was holding his nose and just staring at me. Then he took his hands down and looked at them. They were covered in blood. He couldn’t see it, but so was his face as the bleeding from his nose dripped steadily down his chin. We stared at each other equally stunned.

Then he brought his hands back up to his nose and started crying. I took this as my cue to head for the fence. At the same time I started to move, so did he, but the other way, for home I presume.

My body was unbeaten, but the adrenaline continued to beat in my heart.  I didn’t bother running to the fence, but I’m pretty sure I scaled it like a parkour athlete.  I was safe and I would remain safe.  Shane never bothered to come near me again.

 I didn’t know it at the time, but that was a life changing event.  It wasn’t just that I was able to defend myself, no matter the miracle was unplanned. It was because it was the first time I was consciously aware that I did something I had no idea I could.

 Unfortunately it wasn’t the last time I would encounter bullies in my life, but sometimes, when I do come up on the short end of the stick in those meetings, I remember that sweet, sweet time I kicked ass. Like a boss.

 RL

Posted in Bullying, Inspiration, Life, Lighter Side, Storytelling | Tagged , , | 52 Comments

Bad Medicine

There was a time I needed to feel  safe.
So, I would just be the Italian, Eurasion or Greek.
It was better to be whatever I wasn’t
because anything was better than pain.

I didn’t have my grandmother’s arms to hold me
while she told me where we came from.
I didn’t have my grandmother’s words to tell me who
We are.

Her children went onward and got lost in the White Sea
with, here and there moments of shining glory, such short moments,
but mostly they got knocked around and then down,
till the medicine could numb them, and set them free.

Some of us finally stopped drowning, and we were doing what we were told.
But I learned the voices in my head weren’t the ones in my heart.
My grandmother does talk to me and she’s been whispering the stories.
The hurt of the years stood in the way for so long.

She’s been telling me to stand up now.  To remember and learn who we are.
She’s saying use your voice to teach.
Use your voice to reach the hearts of the other ones lost.
Let them know they’re not alone, show them lies are not real.

Learn for them; then teach them the ways through that White Sea.

It’s OK to not be only safe. Staying hidden is another bad medicine.

Eagle on perch

RL

Posted in Aboriginal Peoples, Alcoholism, First Nations, Life, Metis, Native Americans, Pain | Tagged , , , , | 35 Comments

Taxpayers DO NOT Pay For First Nations; First Nations ARE Taxpayers

Part 2 to September 22, 2014 post:  Pathetic and Dense; You HAVE To Be an Indian.

I’m not an authority on all things Indigenous.  I am only an authority on being one. Despite my great-grandfather, Henry McCorrister, being an Indian signatory on Treaty 8, most of the information regarding our history with government oversight is new to me, as I expect it will be to most of you.  What a shame this statement is.

use your heartbeats wellI have questioned leaders on both sides of the ‘cultural divide’ to explain why many details of our histories, like the ones I’m passing on now, aren’t common knowledge by now, instead of common misconceptions.  I haven’t received any replies yet, but trust that I will share those when I get them.

I’ve condensed a huge amount of myth debunking information here, which I sincerely hope you’ll find interesting, enlightening, and worthy of sharing.

If you’ve ever read general media stories on Indigenous issues, coupled with what you likely learned in school, it wouldn’t be surprising if you have very light, usually unfavorable understanding, of First Nations peoples. Too often we’ve been portrayed as drains on society’s purse and guilt strings.

The headlines, commentaries, and letters to Editors that I see daily certainly provide ample evidence of that.  We’re finally rising to counter the myths.

My son has been in our local school district’s Aboriginal Program since 1st grade and though his lessons have included more cultural detail and none of the talk about Indians terrorizing settlers that I’d learned, there’s wasn’t much beyond that except one disturbing lesson.

It was only 3 yrs ago, within the general curriculum, that he was taught that Indigenous children forced into the infamous residential schools was a good thing because they were able to get an education. For the record, those notorious schools are not ancient history; the last of them closed in 1996.

Apparently, those school lessons remain much the same for the general curriculum and Aboriginal program until graduation.  There are no details added such as why the original Indian/Aboriginal/First Nations reserve system was created, what the rules were for living on them, and how they’re funded.

This is mainly what’s behind the long-held misconceptions about what and why things are the way they are. I don’t think this is by mistake.  I think we were all misled by early and some current governmental efforts to hide, subvert, and muddy the details of Indigenous history and issues in Canada.  I think there was disinterest by most media who, given generous benefit of the doubt, were likely unaware of the full picture too.

As more demands for governing transparency are made and more communications technology becomes available, we’re all learning far more, which benefits the Indigenous greatly by finally being heard in more vast and accessible ways.  Government records are being posted online for all to review, including the many Indigenous peoples catching up in education.

As mentioned in my previous post, some of my recent discussions about First Nations were rife with that lack of education and full of bitter assertions, derision and accusations against First Nations. When I contradicted their understandings, barrels of outrage erupted.  The chats quickly devolved into calling me names and mentally unfit.

 The highlights of the madness that ensued are these:

  • Since when do First Nations people pay taxes”?
National Post  Missing Women Sept 18 2014-3a

We give you our taxes!

The majority of First Nations people do, in fact, pay all taxes. Of the 1,400,700 Indigenous as of 2011, which includes registered and non-registered First Nations, Metis, Treaty, Inuit and Innu, all are required to pay income tax and the same goods and services taxes as everyone else.

Most of these people (+70%) do not live on reserves. The fewer numbers who live on reserves, and who can now earn income on reserve land, do get some income and goods and service tax exemptions, but not near the often assumed levels of ‘privilege’.

As for those other often touted ‘free funds for Natives’, I’m a card carrying Metis and I have yet to find any funding to meet my medical needs or for continuing education outside of the same channels for everyone else.

  • …“How do all the chiefs get away with taking millions while their band members freeze, with no clean water”?
National Post  Missing Women Sept 18 2014- quesstion

You’re dense; Chiefs steal

There are 3,000+ elected First Nations officials in Canada.  They’re required to turn in over 160 to 200, financial reports per year to the department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC). Chiefs who misappropriate funds are rare and probably number less than the annual mismanagement cases we find in the  Senate.

Assembly of First Nations Interim Chief, Ghislain Picard makes a good point when he says, it’s too bad it’s these exceptions that are trumpeted and viewed as the norm instead of no outrage for the many more Chiefs who are grossly underpaid.

Despite the heavy demands of the role, the average band Chief makes an average annual salary of $60,000 (updated in 2015 from a previous average of 36,000). Many are making far less than that, as low as $0.00 to $25,000 annually. They get no pensions nor entitlements as those provided for Prime Ministers, MPs, or Senators.

  • “When will they finally stop living off of taxpayer’s backs and stand on their own two feet”? 

First Nations don’t live off of taxpayers, in fact, quite the opposite, their resources have generously subsidized Canada.

National Post  Missing Women Sept 18 2014-11 - facts of history

The common misunderstandings of facts

Although, the 1876 Indian Act was used to brutally coerce government control of Indian economic and resource development and land use, Canada was formed through legal negotiations rather than war.

Treaty Agreements were business agreements meant to sustain Indigenous rights and needs. They are not invalid ancient history documents; there have been several additions since, right up to the current Harper Government.

The Indian Act also forbade First Nations from acting for their own economic development. This has only recently been somewhat revised and many reserves now generate their own monies in addition to the transfer funds they get from the ‘Indian Trust Fund’ which is overseen by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, (AANDC). They’re often referred to as ‘federal funds’, but that term should really be, ‘federally managed Indigenous funds’.

Must deny facts to retain right to argue

The monies that were/are supplied to this trust fund came from part of the resources taken off of their lands. Note to people who insist it was started with taxes: the Bank of Canada and the taxation system didn’t even exist at that time.

This fund is substantial, billions of dollars, and it is actually the fund’s annual interest that serves the reserves greatly.  The Government of Canada decides how those funds will be distributed to the bands.

The country of Canada, when unable to manage with the rest of the resources from land and taxes, has actually lived off of that First Nations trust fund from time to time, paying for things like general Canadian infrastructure and economic stimulus plans.

media.knet.ca/node/22912
Manual for Administration of Band Monies:
Chapter 8 – Preservation of First Nations Capital Trust Funds
aandc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1100100032353#annb
Appendix B – Rates of Interest on Capital and Revenue Accounts

This is only part of a rather large story, but writer, Elyse Bruce who regularly covers Indigenous affairs further speaks to the points.  If you follow her link, you will also get a picture as to why there is chronic under-funding to First Nation’s people who were made to live on reserves and into the Arctic regions to maintain Canadian territory:

…”the monies due the First Nations peoples from natural resources has been taken into consideration as part of First Nation revenues”.

…  “the First Nations Trust Fund isn’t the only money that belongs to First Nations peoples that is handled by the AANDC”.  

She’s referring to the fees for the licenses, permits and other instruments to individuals and organizations for exploration and development on First Nations land, and the Indian Moneys Suspense Accounts under the direction of the AANDC.

…”If the resource exploration and development projects weren’t on First Nations property, there wouldn’t be any need for AANDC to involve itself ergo the revenues generated from “licenses, permits and other instruments to individuals and organizations” is First Nations revenues, is it not”?

“In other words, there’s all kinds of money that belongs to First Nations peoples that isn’t part of the First Nations Trust Fund, (and yet) the AANDC controls all of it”.  

So where have all those extra funds been going?   Could it be, that Canada is in debt to the First Nations Trust Fund? First Nations have been asking for transparency of that account for years.

They’ve also been asking for autonomy in administration of their funds, education, and social services; however this has not been a successful effort.  This was very nearly accomplished with an agreement set to be signed in 2007, called the Kelowna Accord.  It was cancelled by the then next incoming Prime Minister, Stephen Harper.

One more note that begs sharing, in my opinion:

“Anyone crying that FN’s should disappear from the world and assimilate, might as well be advocating for Canada itself to be dissolved because that is the only way to dissolve the treaties. Like it or not, dissolving Canada puts us directly under international law. Like it or not, under international law, you must prove right of discovery. Like it or not, right of discovery belongs to FNs and Inuit under international law, meaning the lands and resources would revert to FN’s and Inuit, which is worth a lot more. Like it or not, this is why even Harper’s government has entered into Treaty as well as using Inuit right of discovery to secure Canadian jurisdiction over the Arctic’s vast resources”.

David King comment, from the Westcoast Native News, “A Short Note To Correct Canadian Misconceptions About Indians Living Off “Taxpayer Monies”, September 23, 2014:

Most, if not all of this, should be common knowledge to the average Canadian citizen, after all it’s their history too. Given the speed with which we can share information now, I feel cautious optimism that most Canadians will finally understand the issues and the reasons behind them.

These details are a huge missing piece of esteem building block for people of Indigenous ancestry. We don’t all have a full understanding of our own history. We deserve this.  We deserve recognition for the stunning contributions of the Indigenous Peoples on behalf of Canada even while being purposely oppressed or denigrated for the consequences of that history.  Surely, this is worthy of respect; it’s certainly worthy of placement in all school history books.

Unfortunately, there will always be people who will continue to deny the worst of our history despite its evidence. There are citizens, leaders, and purveyors of history who say it’s time to just to move on. How do they propose successfully moving from point A to C, if we don’t acknowledge the hows and whys of point B?

Knowledge changes everything. All of Canada benefits when her history is fully known. The scars of that history can heal only if they’re truly and fully acknowledged; the fears that hold that back, hold us all back.  Those fears are based in the idea of losing something, but the facts show that there is only everything to gain.

http://www.td.com/document/PDF/economics/special/sg0612_aboriginal_myth.pdf

RL

Momma – I am listening to our grandmothers. I will continue to acknowledge all the reasons for pride in our ancestors.  I will tell the stories of them and my uncles – I will make them laugh in heaven.  I hope I’ve made them smile today.

Papa – I hope I have finally satisfied your requests for a longer post. Love you always.

My boy – I will always hope that whatever your challenges are to be, you will always know that you are lovingly surrounded and supported by a thousand of your ancestors.  You are a great spirit, with the wisdom of the eagle and the heart of a warrior.

“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” -Albert Einstein.

Posted in Aboriginal Peoples, Discrimination, First Nations, History, Life, WPLongform | Tagged , , , , , , | 19 Comments