Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Living Outside Myself

"Every life, every beating heart has a searching soul inside
Ever needing, ever seeking out the meaning to life
I refuse to believe that we're only here to live and die
In the futile days of a faithless haze never asking why
Why would I?
When I've felt the hand of eternity
It's a legacy I will leave
I want to leave for the children of the world"
(Children of the World, Amy Grant, 1994)


            Although I am a few years away from turning 50, I still feel much like the young man I once was. Inwardly, I haven't aged at all. Sure, there are better parts of me now, much matured and aware, but every time I stop and focus on the outer age of my mortal coil, I recognize how young I still seem within. I see myself differently, and most certainly, think and act different than I would have at 18 or 19 years of age, but the primal energy of my youth still radiates within me. For an old soul, I am young at heart.
            Most people would tell you that they do not feel their age. Even the most defeated and withered of men will relate how they are vibrant within, unaffected on that level by time or space or circumstance. Those with a keen awareness will tell you this happens to all of us. Each person is stuck in the decay brought by life yet filled with a source constant throughout life. Ask almost anyone and they will tell you the very same thing.
            Human beings are imbedded with a spirit, a soul. When we examine ourselves through the filter of time, this soul becomes strangely visible, almost tangible. We recognize it as such. We claim, "I feel just like I did as a school girl," or "When I look in the mirror, I am not 46 but 18 again." When we pay attention, we can sense our spirit, that spark of the Divine duly noted by Paul in the New Testament.

"Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?" (1 Corinthians 3:16, NIV)

            The idea that all of mankind contains within itself a Divine Spark of God, which is poured into a chalice known as the human body, is common in spiritual disciplines such as Gnosticism, Kabbalah and Sufism. Judaism teaches us that all human beings are created in the Divine Image and therefore are linked to God by the Divine Spark within them. Even Jesus, when questioned about the coming kingdom of God, revealed what lies within.

"Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, 'The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, "Here it is," or "There it is," because the kingdom of God is within you.'”
(Luke 17:20-21, NIV)

            Growing up I was keenly aware of the unification between myself and something deep inside me. I always had the sense that God was with me and I was with Him. It is clear to me now just how my relationship with the Divine was corrupted by not only myself but also the people and ideas that influenced me through experience and learning. Throughout everything that has happened to me, I could still feel Him there, near me. I knew He was part of me and nothing I could do or say would make Him leave.  
            I do not mean to suggest that I contain God or that God is part of me. I stand firm that God is with me. I believe that my soul and body were unified at my birth and the spirit within me is connected to something greater than all this life has to offer.  I believe that there is a searching soul inside us, a vessel filled yet somehow empty. The glimmers of our soul that we have, on occasion, are just that, all shiny glimpses of something unaffected by space and time.  
            As we age, our physical body may decay but the spirit within us is incorruptible. It is almost as if the soul inside us, the real us, is exempt from the laws of nature. A supernatural essence of our true self is locked in this "mortal meat," without knowledge of itself. The host ages but the spirit thrives, no laws of physics may restrict it. This is spirit, it is imperishable. I can only assume this being, which is me, comes from Him.
            What we see in these moments of clarity and feel in the utmost part of ourselves is what we really are. It is only illusion, however, warped through our human experience and changed in the translation. No matter how we wish we knew, think we do, we most certainly do not. We cannot know. That is for later when this living is done.

"For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. "
(1 Corinthians 13:12, NIV)

            After I gave in to oblivion, I found myself floating, carried by the song of a billion hummingbirds, down the tunnel and deep towards the light. No muscle constricted and no limb found motion, it was just me, drifting in the darkness like a jellyfish and moving into the bright. Quickly, I realized that I wasn't moving at all. Only the light was moving, closer and closer like an oncoming train, as I hung in the dusky space. I knew instantly that I had crossed over; I could feel it and sense it and see it all about me. I was lost in a place I had never before journeyed to, but found myself feeling somehow like I was home. I did not fear. I had all the reason in the world I had just left behind to be afraid, but I was calm and still and silent. There was such peace that I imagined I might reach out and touch it. There was no temperature to speak of, but I was warm from within and felt nothing from without.
            Out of nowhere, I realized that I was no longer bound to my human body, yet from what I could see and think I was still very much myself. There was no reflection off the shiny black walls or shadow against me from the growing light. I floated, basking in the coming illumination. When it reached me, I felt nothing but anticipation. I had no time to realize what I had left behind. I had no idea where I was going.
            As the pinpoint of light approached, it grew in proportion to the tunnel that I was lingering in. The walls of the passageway were like ebony, all dark and slick and smooth. For a moment, I thought they were spinning like a kaleidoscope or cylinder in a funhouse. I looked to where I had come from, but there was nothing behind me but stronger black, undefined in a barren wasteland of dim. When the beam of white stopped moving, its glow lit the hollow tube of black and silenced the constant groan I had taken moments before to be hummingbirds. The great shine filled the torrent as I dangled like a puppet without strings.
            I was all embraced by the radiance, captive in my state of unknown. I tried to touch my flesh, but my flesh was long gone. I was myself but in a different state, yet a state that was familiar. I knew this version, I had felt like this in pieces. I couldn't help but wonder if I was me or if somehow I had been transformed, no longer a slave to human form or motivation. I looked down and saw my hands. I looked down and saw my feet. I seemed intact, whatever that might be. They came in the light regardless.
           
“You don't have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.” (C.S. Lewis)




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Thursday, November 24, 2011

One Love One Law


            As children, we are told that God's love is unconditional. There is, apparently, nothing that can sway His love for us unless, of course, we are not baptised. As our teen years approach and the turmoil of youth dashes our emotional stability against the very Rock that we are told will save us, we see that confirmation, integration and obedience are required to receive the favour of the Lord. As Christians, when we become adults we are instructed that the only way to find this favour is through rebirth and the born-again experience. Complete surrender is the only way that leads to light.
            The older we get, the more demanding our relationship with God becomes. Every action, every instinct is scrutinized as an indicator for measuring our salvation and commitment to this Higher Power. The Abrahamic triune (Jewish and Christian and Muslim faith structures) assures us that God is always with us. This all-encompassing promise is also met with restrictions and formulas which we must live up to in order to receive God's preference. We must make sacrifice, follow commandments and seek union with the Spirit. We must have righteousness before the Holy. Through all the instruction and all the attention to detail, we see that God's unconditional Love is not all that it claims to be.
            I spent almost every Sunday morning throughout my childhood and adolescence either sitting in Sunday School or teaching a Sunday School class. The one thing that resonated with me the most was that "Jesus loves me … for the Bible tells me so."  This generally sweeping statement held much promise for me, however, it too was laden with conditions that must be met before one could claim entrance into God's kingdom or experience the Love purported as available to all.
            One must believe in the tenets of the faith in order to find that union with the Spirit. We must believe, we must not question and, most certainly, we must forego this world  and all its trappings before we can receive the Grace promised to us in scripture. There are expectations when trying to enter heaven or in discovering God's peace here on earth. We must ask for forgiveness over and over. We must worship and pray. We must follow the dictation from men of old and follow the path God lays out for us through them. We must emulate Christ and strive for a sinless life. Jesus reveals to us that if we even think of sinning then we have committed sin in our heart. The list of demands placed upon us by that which we consider Holy is as long and winding as any road we are predestined to follow. God's Love is nothing but conditional.

"Religious life appears as a form of discipline which the individual or a whole people must accept as an unconditional command without any rational understanding of the ultimate meaning and purpose of that command."
(Muhammed Iqbal, Islamic philosopher)

            The world can eat you alive. I have known my share of its bite marks. So too has every other soul that dwells on this planet. For each of us there is struggle. Life is not supposed to be easy or it would hold no reward. More often than not, the reward for just one of us can be worse than any punishment sent from on High for another. People actually believe that in their thinking, coupled with a link to their argument in scripture, that it validates righteousness before their God and justifies their not so loving actions toward other human beings. In our glory, we shape God into our own protector and exclude any evidence that His Love is for everyone else too, not just those who follow set rules (or say they do). Unfortunately, organized religion and fundamentalism have shaped God into something He was never meant to be seen as. You can quote from the Qur'an or the Bible all you like, but this does little to quell the warmongering deity most religious people now worship. Since our holy texts express it, then it must be so. Surviving this monster is a matter of semantics. We are saved not by Grace, but by words from pages.
            After I was attacked in January of 1983, I withdrew within myself. Having to face, almost daily, each of my assailants at school, I naturally fell into disrepair. I didn't understand why such a thing had happened, let alone why such heavy karma had been placed upon me. I may have been somewhat defeated by the event, but I was more concerned with God's lack of concern and mercy towards me. I knew I was not a perfect person and I realized that, for all my sincerity, I was still considered an abomination due to my secret desires. I declared war on God in a state of rabid mania, personalizing His lack of response from above. As He had declared war on my kind, I had declared war on His kind. It was a battle I knew I could not win.
            I don't believe that I was trying to escape God and all that His history claims as true, rather I was responding to the newly found ideas I had been exposed to through Pentecostalism. The God I met during the later days of my teenage years was not the God I had been exposed to as a child just years earlier. Eventually, I came to see the deity worshipped by fundamentalist Christians, around the world, as a completely different source from the one I worshipped. This god was mean. He was mean, he lacked empathy and he most certainly was a hypocrite. My maternal grandmother would have been right at home within these ideals.
            Every commandment, every part of the Law, laid down in scripture, is a direct order opposing His very criteria of Love and Divinity. From the earliest recorded communication regarding God in history, it was clear that he was not all he was cracked up to be. Practising murder, while condoning pillage and rape, in the Old Testament, merely morphed into genocide and obliteration in the book of Revelation in the New Testament. It seemed to me that God was very much human and therefore warlike and flawed, not the Omnipotent loving God I had heard from as a boy. I don't comprehend why we, as people,  are so surprised when one religious sect or another blow themselves up in the name of God. Are we not mimicking the very nature of God revealed in one scripture or another?
            It took many years for me to trust the Christian God again. I am not even sure if the God I came to know later was even the God of Jesus. My God never would slaughter innocent children in hopes of freeing one person or another from tyranny. My God would never order an army to destroy every human being in a town or city. My God could defeat power and evil with Love. He does not need to battle, with might, the forces which oppose Him. My God did not need the human idea of sacrifice to reconcile mankind to Himself. He craves love, not blood.
            My God has one law which covers everything. My God has one rule we all must follow. There is no commentary or room for interpretation. No stipulation meets you on the way. Love one another, that's unconditional.


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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

ἄνωθεν (from above)

"You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world." (1 John 4:4, NIV)


             I stood in line like a lamb led to slaughter, everyone else simply waiting to receive it as if it where a token to board a bus bound for glory. We had been called and dozens of us had answered, propelled to the lineup, summoned on command. The altar call was something I had witnessed many times before, but never imagined I would partake in. At the front of the small sanctuary I was to find my salvation, so they had told me.
            As a teenager, I had already been baptised and confirmed in the United Church of Canada when I ventured out onto different pastures. My time with the Calvary Pentecostal Church of Strathroy was most certainly that. Compelled to join in the joy by my parents' newfound friends, I enthusiastically agreed, but only to bring me closer to the secret object of my affection. The entire scenario fit perfectly into my megalomania and acted only to confirm my doubts about religion.   
            My Dad met the lay pastor, Sam Skinner, when Sam began working at the high school under my father's charge. Sam claimed to have played with the band Black Sabbath in the early 1970s, but never really convinced anyone to believe this was true. In fact, all these years later there is no record of a Samuel Skinner ever playing bass, or being a member of Black Sabbath. Regardless, Sam's influence on my father and my family was profound.
            I don’t know anything about my parents' conversion to fundamentalist Christian thinking besides my own encounters with the newly born again pair. My mother, for the most part, changed little during this period of time. She even grew to resent the "primal" teachings of the born again experience, eventually rebuking the entire system as corrupt and with much decay. I suppose it was when she was informed that God had punished her for her sins, manifested in the birth of my youngest brother and his disability, that the straw broke the camel's back for her. I recall her sicking the hounds of hell on the bearer of this glad tiding. She told me years later she really only took part because of my Dad and they also let her sing to her heart's content at gatherings and during services.
            Initially, the change in my father was drastic. He burned Stephen King novels in the backyard garden and forced bible study in the evenings around my mother's treasured dining room table. I never understood why he did not leave the United Church of Canada when he converted to this sect of fundamentalism, but I later recognized his commitment to "his" church was greater than the musing of his newly found comrades. I have no idea why he parted company with Sam and his folk, but I suppose the only conclusion I can make on the matter is that he discovered God in the place where he had left Him.
            I had grown up to believe in a Divine Spirit and even believed that the same Spirit had journeyed with me since I was a child. Fundamentalism promised a complete union with this Spirit and also gave me a path to access the focus of my current mania. I was driven by my shadows yet drawn by the assurance that this renewal claimed to bring. I know that in my darkest places I yearned to be free from the demons which possessed me, and despite my shadows, I was sincere in trying to find a better way. On Sunday January 9th, 1983, at 17 years old, I set out to meet my maker and free myself from my sin. I was born again waiting in line.
            Komoka Gospel Tabernacle, an affiliation of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, was much smaller than I had expected it to be. The moment I entered the tiny sanctuary, all thoughts other than my salvation left my mind. This was my chance. It was here and now that I could be saved. All the destruction and all the sorrow would end this night. I sat with my friends and quietly pondered on the things which were soon to be no more, vanquished by the same light that had travelled with me all these years. The service was energetic and stirring, like most expressions of Divine inspiration. There was music for the soul and words of comfort from the pulpit, building to a crescendo of redemption and righteousness. Sam stood calling us forth, mongering our souls for the army of Jesus.
            Each person in turn drew near to him. Like patrons awaiting their order at a  McDonalds serving the spiritually starving, Sam's agents of Christ corralled us into place, all the while each of us craving heavenly gratification. He spoke in tongues, arousing the audience and stirring the desire within each approaching customer. Salvation, sweet salvation, promised with a few words and a happy meal order from Scripture. As each soul hungered before him, he called out to Jesus to heal and feed these creatures through Spirit. With one touch, each seeking vessel would start to shake, then fall backwards in a frozen state, caught by the ushers. All were left on the floor, some bouncing, some screaming, some laying in place.
            I have never been much for patience and I grew frustrated standing there waiting for Jesus. When I got to the front of the line, I took a breath and prayed for emancipation. Sam mumbled a few words I could not comprehend then asked me if I wanted to give my life to the living Christ. When I said yes, he lightly touched my forehead. Nothing happened. He touched me again with the same result. Nothing happened. With the third try, he pushed hard against my skull. I fell backwards from arms, then onto the floor and was left in my presumed ecstasy. The only thing I could feel was the cold formica against the side of my face and the realization that something was missing.
            I don't remember how long I laid there on that floor but I know I searched within myself for anything new or different or special. I thought about my childhood experiences with the Spirit, but they were nothing like this. Alone and empty, I slowly sat up and looked around at the people who surrounded me.  There was a glow to their faces as they danced and pranced about with their newfound salvation. A couple of my friends helped me off the floor and congratulated me for joining the kingdom of God. 
            Almost a week later, I stood singing at the Pentecostal Church in downtown Strathroy.  Our Friday night youth group bristled with the joy that comes from being born again. As the words of 'Home' by Evie Karlsson echoed from my lips off the back wall of the basement hall, I realized the truth of my experiences. For days I had searched frantically for the promise within me, but to no avail. I thought that in giving my life, with true sincerity, to the Lord of Heaven and Earth, I would be set free.
            I never really tried to pretend that something magical had happened to me as I stood in line praying for redemption. It was obvious from my lack of response on that church floor that nothing occurred for me. I was hurt deeply in my thinking that God did not want me. I felt betrayed and broken when I was later instructed that some people are just meant for damnation. It didn't even take a month from my supposed rebirth for me to see that my relationship with Jesus had become adversarial and was never inclusive. I was deserted, abandoned with nothing but questions.  For me, the answers would come just weeks later as judgment from above, not salvation.





Sources






Photo

http://alphaomegaarts.blogspot.com/2011/05/sabbath-art-news-in-review_22.html

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mega Rising


"Hey megalomaniac
You're not Jesus
Yeah, you're no fucking Elvis
Special, as you know yourself, maniac
Step down
Step down
Yeah
You're no Jesus
You're not Elvis
You're no answer"
(Megalomaniac, Incubus, 2003)


            By the time the end of summer vacation drew near and my sophomore year of high school began, I had let any remnant of my recent depression wither into nothing but a dried-up thought. I felt fine and I moved about my life as if nothing had happened whatsoever. As I prepared for Grade 10, the year ahead of me seemed easier knowing I was well once again. When I saw the doctor for regular maintenance, I neglected to mention my mood swing of the previous season, and in so doing, laid to rest any concerns I had about my own health.
            The end of my summertime break turned out to be a very long period of time. At first it wasn't anything I could put my finger on, but I knew that I was having a lot of trouble sleeping. I'm not talking about interrupted patterns or dream-related breaks in my nightly rest. Suddenly, without warning, I just could not get to sleep. As hard as I tried to capture some much needed REM, I would end up sitting on the floor of my room all night, watching movies or putting together puzzles, accumulated throughout the years by myself and my family. When I would pass out, usually after the dawn, I would only rest for 2 - 4 hours. Often, I did not sleep at all.
            By the time school started again in September 1980, I was a changed person. I had imagined that my continuing inability to get proper sleep should have effected my daily energy, but it did not. I felt stronger, revitalized and ready to take on the world. I didn't sit at 3 a.m. questioning the reasons for my dilemma. I sat at 3 a.m. much alive, aware and filled with zeal. The more sleep I failed to get, the stronger I believed myself to be. My 15-year-old body had become a vessel for some thing that I did not know.
            As classes resumed, I found my mind was beginning to race; thought after thought speeding inside my head. A million neurons were firing together so quickly that I couldn't catch myself thinking. I started to see things differently too. My world shifted almost instantly, right before my eyes, yet nothing at all had changed but me. My head swelled with pomp and circumstance and my ego inflated to the point of bursting. I morphed from a generally happy, somewhat introspective and thoughtful teenager into a narcissistic asshole with nothing better to do with his time than manipulate and instigate trouble.
            Some might say this was possession, some malice-filled energy taking over my control, but I did not find myself thinking in those terms. My ideas about myself found favour in my own mind and I began to believe that I was something special, an exalted victim with grand attributes and significant purpose. There was a pathology in my egotism. I felt as if the world was against me and no ally could be found. I was misunderstood and could play the victim much to serve my own need.
            I would sit in class, deliberately interrupting the lecture of the day. If I was confronted, I would not hesitate to deliver a powerful "fuck you" in the middle of working. I got cocky, so I got caught. I spent more time at the office during the first part of my second year than most high school students do their entire tenure. The dysphoria which had consumed me in previous months now seemed kinder than this monster on the loose. I no longer was falling down, rather, rising to my proper place.
            My urges and impulses increased in a manner that seemed beyond compare to me. I yearned, I craved, I sought gratification. Hunger, thirst and every other physiological need became my centre, my drive. I even found among all those faces likeminded abominations with which to indulge in untold things. I started to bully my fellow classmates and other students throughout the school. I got no greater pleasure than in seeing someone suffer, in any capacity. My pleasure now outweighed their tiny little lives. One day it just hit me, "I'm better than them."
            Any empathy I felt towards others was lost to disdain and hatred. As the weeks went on, I became hyperactive, a lingering fault of my childhood. I would be euphoric one moment, then irritable the next, especially if my wishes or plans were interfered with. I was frequently given to attacks of rage, any violent surge validated in my mind by some spur of the moment. I started crank-calling anyone who had questioned my behaviour and attempted to spin unrealistic schemes involving anyone who would listen. While I felt indestructible, I started to self-destruct.
            In two and a half months, I managed to alienate myself from almost everyone I had previously associated with at school. While I exhibited the signs and symptoms of pathological narcissism, no one seemed to catch on regarding my newly found sense of self. When I was home, I tried to stay discreetly calm. I tried as best as I could to keep my sleeping schedule, or lack thereof, a secret and I was silent in any plot I may have hatched during my day away. While hubris began to eat me alive, my private world turned against me.
            I always thought that the voyage to hell would be through descent, not rising in  elevation, such an inflation of me. I was taught you go down into the pit, not up into the clouds. This was hell for me, even if I was incapable of expressing it, let alone thinking it. My mind soared with eagles but my soul yearned for peace. Inward, quietly I witnessed what I had become. Slowly, almost methodically, the better part of me raised its weary head. The spirit within me was not strong enough to battle this beast. I could not help myself any more than someone else could have. As the days passed, that spirit finally gained some strength, and when it finally took control, I believed, yet again, that I had purged the brute creature from within me.
            My self-deflation led me back to where I had started. It was almost as if I had popped my own balloon, then watched myself drop from some fantasy sky. Just like a river runs into the sea, I gradually regained my sanity. I felt as if the monster inside me had peaked in power and fled silently in the night. Even the consequences left for me by my own hands where better than that mega-thing which was calling itself by my name.
            I wish I'd had access to the internet when I was growing up. It is so much easier to identify symptoms and causation when you have the facts right before you. I really had no idea, back then, what the hell was happening to me. I know that, for years, I was untreated and fell into the same cycle over and over again. For a few months, I would squirm in my own shit, lost to the world and any hope it contained, then revert to my normal self. There was balance in the eye of my storm. Once a few weeks of stability had passed and I felt safe, I again found mega rising.
            I have never blamed the people in my life for not seeing I had bigger problems than what I led them to believe. I couldn't see it. There was a haze over my sense of reality and this made for easy domination by each returning captor. As with most mental disorders, shame and secret tend to compliment the disease. I know my mother and father sacrificed many things due to my actions, whether I was responsible for them or not is irrelevant. I know I disappointed more people than just my schoolmates and teachers. I wish I had noticed all the damage I caused.
            The extremes of mania and depression do not go well together. I used to feel like I was on a roller coaster, flowing up then down, over and under, back and forth until forever. All I ever really wanted to do was puke my guts out and fucking die. For a small period of time, I considered myself 'crazy', but the guiding hand I have always used led me to a different place. Even in my nightmare times, I always turned to God for assurance and hope. I never took into consideration the strong possibility that He wasn't even listening.




Photo

http://vi.sualize.us/myfavoritething/wind/

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Four Horsemen


"My stubborn will at last has yielded
I would be thine and thine alone
And this prayer my lips are bringing
Lord, let in me thy will be done
Sweet will of God, unfold me closer
Til I am wholely lost in thee
Sweet will of God, still fold me closer
Til I am wholely lost in thee"
(Sweet Will of God, Leila N. Morris, 1900)



             I love to walk in the snow. It doesn’t matter how much or how little, if it is cold outside and the ground holds white, then I want to be in it. When I was a teenager, I would spend, on occasion, an evening sauntering about my little town, basking in a snowy wonderland. I would window shop in the business area and window spy on Christmas lights in neighbourhoods throughout the direction that my feet had led me. I still spend as much time as possible outdoors during the cooler days of fall, and most of all, I cherish a stroll on a winter's night.
            At the base of what used to be the old high school, the Strathroy Conservation Area boasts 3 kilometres of well-preserved nature trials, a large beautiful park with amenities, and a watery deposit from the Sydenham River. This manmade lake may be small, but wildlife flock to its waters throughout the year. The watershed is relatively undisturbed by industrial development and remains a biological treasure. The Sydenham River is considered one of the most species-rich watersheds in all of Canada.
            I had made my decision to cover the entire span of the park's walkways earlier in the day. In 1983, the closest most people got to physical activity was walking, and my travels were no secret at the school lunch table. My first mistake was discussing my evening plans with my friends in the cafeteria. Occasionally, one of them would join me, meeting up in some assigned place, but this night, it seemed I was flying solo. I preferred my time alone, so I was pleased with this lack of development.
            The park entrance consists of a small concrete bridge covering a good-sized creek. The creek bends to alongside the gravel roadway which leads into the forested area, then flowing up to the nature walk and parking area. The depth of the creek can be deceiving, as several students lost their lives when their car ended hood-first in the murky waters the year before. To the right of the entrance, the mouth of the creek joins a large and efficient pond, usually solid with ice by mid-January. Grass lines most of the shoreline, then melts into trees, pathways and forest just beyond the brick-laid bathrooms.
            The snow had covered anything dead or once green. The waters were still and like sheets of glass. I entered the park around 9:00 p.m. on January 28th, 1983, six years to the day that bulk of heavy metal crushed both my foot and my trust in God. I wandered down the gravel road to the back of the conservation area, kicking snowballs left over from a good snow removal. I journeyed back into the dark, absorbing the world around me, and finally met with the quaint wooden bridge that leads to the nature walk.
            As I jaunted through, I did what I would normally do when I would take to such quests. I talked a lot to God, I sang a lot of Amy Grant and I appreciated the serenity of an almost moonlit night. The snow lay hard on the branches of trees, clinging with a silent urge to fall into their collective. The wind whispered softly, too quiet to be heard, unrevealing the things which were yet to come. The wooden boardwalks which line the trail crinkled with ice and time as I slipped across each with less grace than one could imagine. The sounds of the forest and the breeze mingled with the partial clouds that lingered about a moon yearning to shine bright. I was at peace, a fortunate result of these times alone.
            As the pathway ended, I cut back to the water and headed towards town. Strathroy looms brightly from even this small distance, the mall and main street but feet from the entrance to the park. In the distance, I could hear cars and trucks and inaudible noises that mingled with the silence of my soon-fated night. As I crunched through the snow I heard laughing, so I froze to pay attention. I thought it must have come from some passing car as no echo found its way around me. I thought little of it and continued on my way.
            The snow grew deep like a rising swell of water; I lost my knees in the blanket. I battled with it as I headed straightway and fast towards the gravel road I had entered by. As the icy beach ended and the woods began, I thought I heard laughing again, and this time I knew it was closer. I reasoned that it must be some band of drinkers, chasing each other for a little more cheer. I quickened my pace, but this surge of adrenaline did little to lessen the fear that was building within me. Many souls had found themselves burdened by the weight of overzealous strangers in this park. It was always a safe spot for me, but I felt threatened all the same. I panicked and made the mistake of cutting past the almost snow-free bathroom area.
            You could see the literal scars of windblown banks and chiselled stones beneath quick layers of ice and frost. The red brick double lavatory, unlit and remote, was locked in the autumn and would not give refuge again until spring.  The laughter came again, but  rather than fleeing, I froze up as someone pushed me against the building.
            Two others came from each side of me and grabbed my arms as I floundered for freedom. The first just laughed as he started punching me in the gut. A fourth member of this little group stood watching at a distance while his armchair pals continuously thrust me back on the hard cold face of the washroom. Fear grew to anger as the faces of my assailants were revealed in lack of shadow. The night sky of the town below us rippled like a lantern meant to light a weary way. I knew them! I knew them!
            I stood captured, held by more than I could escape from. When the first attacker started undoing his pants, he looked at me and revealed his intent. As he clarified  his purpose with an anti-gay slur, I knew I needed to act. I returned harsh words in kind, and drawing my resolve, I kicked this flasher right in his batteries. He fell forward onto the frozen stones around us and then his two pals started in.
            They punched my face and jabbed my ribs and they tossed me down into the bleakness that was yet to come. They pulled my coat and they kicked me hard, so hard I thought I passed out for a moment. When my senses returned and my wits found semblance, I knew what they were doing. The fourth member of this frosty tale found joy in mine until completion, first dibs I suppose. Then, apparently recovered, my first foe tried to do the same and that's when I lost it.
            I twisted and turned, kneeing one of the boys in the side of his thigh. As they cursed me, I managed to stand, pants broken and fallen, helpless and bleeding. The fourth member decided it was time to jump from assault to attempted murder, like a fool he held a knife that Barbie wouldn't use. I guess all those years of superheroes and Bruce Lee had done me some good as I grabbed the blade with my left hand, the weaker of my two. I seized it, pulling it from his hand and throwing it into the snow just a few feet away. Three of them grabbed me while the fourth one punched me, all ramming my face into the brick façade before them. Suddenly, a car entered the conservation area and startled them to flee.
            I stood bleeding. My face, my mouth and my fingers coloured the ground around me darker. Though that darkness hid all colour, it still woke me from the shock. My coat was destroyed, my pants and underwear torn to pieces and my life torn apart. I can still hear one of those three hockey players mocking that no one would believe me as they departed, then the fourth monster thanked me for a good time. They disappeared into night like thieves, carrying what was left of my youth and my allegiance to anything Holy and Divine. God left me standing alone in the snow.
            My apocalypse did not begin with a rapture or the sounds of trumpets. My tribulation lasted only 7 minutes, not 7 years, but this was the final event leading to my Armageddon. A revelation that would eventually cover and consume me. As I walked back into town, I cursed God and His so-called Will. I rebuked the lies I had been told about mercy and justice and protection. For my entire life, I had dealt with great pain and destruction. I felt as I had suffered enough already, but no, more was thrown upon me by this loving God. Rage coursed through my veins as I walked towards safety and the closest comfort I could find.
            When I hit Jamie Herrington's house, at the base of the town's water tower, I was exhausted and weak. I knocked loudly, pounding as if possessed by a demon too strong to let loose. When Jamie's mother opened the door, I collapsed into a ball on the floor, a wreck, covered in blood and dead inside.
            I woke up in my room at home, friends around me and warmth returned within. I sat up dizzily, surveying the space. My parents came in and cared for my wounds, the nastiest of all being the three slashes across my fingers from that knife. Three fingers marked for life, and yet another scar to supposedly build me strong.
            I rebuked all requests to take me to a doctor, then showered in an attempt to wash away the victim I had become. When I looked in the mirror, carefully studying the scrapes and bruises all over me, a part of me passed away. I had never understood why such calamities kept jinxing my life, but I knew this time it was purely personal. Two weeks before, I had surrendered my life to Jesus, and was, according to my Christian peers, born again. For me, this was my welcome into the kingdom of God.
            This was now a war cry. It became my personal mission to corrupt anything good and inspirational in life, made stronger with a vow to never forgive God for that which He had just allowed to happen. I was tired. I was tired of the pain, tired of the sorrow, and most of all, tired of Jesus. Everything that happens in life is, after all, the Will of God. He was behind my misery. He was the cause to all the effect. I could never again comply with His rules or follow His standards, for it was clear He did not do so Himself. For now and forever, I swore, He would be an enemy mine.
            When asked what happened, I mostly told the truth. With much regret, I did not reveal the identities of my assailants, whether to family or the police officer who took my statement at the station that night. It was clear to all that I knew who had done this, but I calmly stated no recall or awareness of their faces. When the officer offered his support, I simply refused to change my mind.
            I felt alone, with no Spirit to calm me or peace which I had known. A week later, when the pieces of brick finally extricated themselves from my facial wounds, my minister sat me down and inquired as to my state of mind and spirit, considering the events of the week before. He compelled me to not protect those who had done such harm to me, and reiterated that by not coming forward I was making myself a victim forever. He beseeched me to tell him who had done such an awful deed, but my only reply rang, "It was the Four Horsemen."





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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

An Ill Wind

“The pain is unrelenting, and what makes the condition intolerable is the foreknowledge that no remedy will come - not in a day, an hour, a month, or a minute. If there is mild relief, one knows that it is only temporary; more pain will follow. It is hopelessness even more than pain that crushes the soul. So the decision - making of daily life involves not, as in normal affairs, shifting from one annoying situation to another less annoying - or from discomfort to relative comfort, or from boredom to activity - but moving from pain to pain. One does not abandon, even briefly, one’s bed of nails, but is attached to it wherever one goes.” (William Styron, American novelist)



             I was 15 years old when the darkness first came to me. It was not rushed, rather it consumed me slowly, over days and weeks and months. Each moment it was set to possession, much deeper and retained, much greater than the wave before. I had known this ill wind as a child. Its grip was not formed enough to take control, but now it lingered, then stayed and would not let me be. I grew fat on its forces, its seed weighing more and more with each crest until, like some camel gut, it stretched me to my limit.
            No clock put itself to motion, but random to time and without prejudice, this cancer swelled within me, then set itself to harbour in my soul. A constant hum that only I could feel and touch and hear. Silently, endlessly, in stranger ways it rattled me, defined me and let loose on me its tender but ravaging destruction. I did not know where it came from nor where it might be going, but I knew I had been taken. It would not die within me nor would it let me go.
            I do not recall its greeting, no voices heralding the way, but rather it came from nowhere but the flashing seconds of sadness I had experienced as a boy. I recognized it right away. This heartache and this sorrow, not foreign to my sensibilities, had always been lurking in my rooms. I did not answer when it beseeched me to enter, I simply closed my eyes and prayed with hope that I would not feel this way. It descended, still, like some unholy dark dove and captured me with an unclean spirit of idleness and absolute wretchedness. Then, suddenly, I was lost as lost could be.
            It whispered to me of my worthlessness which all the events from my life had accumulated and now confirmed. I felt lonely, empty and worse for the wear. When it started in moments of confusion and rejection, I tossed it to the side and tried to put it out of my mind. When it screamed in my head, I had no choice but to listen. It literally possessed me. Subtle, so as not to provoke, then raging in depth and control until it finally settled in with ownership. It thought it would never leave yet begged it to.
            As the weeks went by, I did not grow accustomed to its place. It lurked about, challenging me to hide from those around me. I became a facade, covered by old ways and a laughing smile. It assaulted me, swooned me, it lied to me so. It told me stories of how much God hates me and how all would be better if I just left the scene. I battled the constant crescendo of doubt, then fury and all without. Hope abandoned me, leaving nothing but a growing shell scattered to that wind.
            Expectation became the root of my heartache, each moment of clarity dashed on a suffering shore. When I thought things were getting better and I once more dreamed of happiness, a nightmare formed instead. Day after day it overtook me, directed me and imprisoned my own will. I did not know who I was becoming, but I knew I did not like it, so I tried to stand and fight for myself but to no avail.
            As the dusk turned to ashes and the red of fading day flickered with some salvation, it would hold me hostage to my sorrow. For hours every night, I would lay sobbing over everything and nothing at all. Overwhelmed by angst, I was blinded in my affliction. Tears blocked out all light and I could only see darker. It was pain. It was pain of the heart and pain of the soul and pain of a mind filled with despair. There was no reason, no purpose, just this constant  melancholy warping my existence into a trembling mound of numb. Agony thrilled me. I turned cold in my veins, disgusted by my living yet too afraid to die. My ration and logic proved feeble attempts as this new depression became old hat.
            I didn’t do much to help myself, it seems. I did nothing at all but to begin the hunger for it. I had nothing else. It became my world. Like some sick sadist, it became a norm, the way I was and who I would always be. The impossibility of feeling normal again haunted me. My empty world no longer worth wanting, let alone hoping to have. My longing suffocated me as I drifted in nothing and floated to nowhere. No other choice was left to me but the suffering and sweet surrender. 
            It did not leave me like it had come. There was no gentle falling away, just dashing against reality once again. I woke up one day and I was okay, not great but okay. Quickly it withdrew, taking all the weapons and all the camouflage used in its war against me. I stood naked, shamed and cut to the core by their experience.  
            I had no idea what had happened and the 11 weeks since my possession were as lost to me as the monster who had laid its claim. I had managed to remain undetected in my despair so one could not question family or friends as to the substance of this consumption. I had nothing but the hope that the beast who had stolen my essence away would not return to me.
            When a few weeks had passed and I had covered all my tracks, freedom seemed to have found its place. I could not help but question what had happened and why it happened. For the most part I had been, as my mother used to say, "such a happy child." I wondered if all my years of thinking God was punishing me had foreshadowed this misery and  gloom. I questioned if the feelings I had always carried, like some love that dare not speak its name, had tormented me to the point of exhaustion, weakening my resolve to a cursed demon or evil spirit. I thought about a lot of things, always wondering if this too was some judgment from above.
            As my first year of high school came to an end, the time ahead held great promise for me. I was restored intact, half boy - half man, both looking for where he belonged. I even noticed some hope. Unfortunately, where hope is concerned, looks can be deceiving. The thing with hope is you always need more and it rarely does one much good. I realized early on that life produces great misery for everyone and this gave me some comfort in my lack of righteousness. I was, however, betrayed by this hope then fed, like a second century Christian, to a lion much fiercer than the beast I had just defeated. All promise was blown away with a force so much greater than any ill wind.




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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Entourage


"One today is worth two tomorrows."
(Benjamin Franklin, polymath)


            The Queen and her entourage landed at the Toronto International Airport at 1:20 p.m. on Monday, June 25th, 1973. The visit would consist of an extended tour of Ontario, with events to mark the 300th anniversary of the settlement now called the City of Kingston. Accompanied by Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Royal couple would spend time on Prince Edward Island and celebrate the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) centennial out west in Calgary, Alberta. The tour of Ontario would include stops in Toronto, Kitchener and Niagara-on-the-Lake, as well as a handful of cities and towns throughout the province.  
            The Queen arrived on schedule. She disembarked from the Air Canada 747, then was greeted by officials, security and her transportation on the tarmac below. Although the Toronto International Airport was renamed the Toronto Pearson International Airport in 1984,  the pomp and circumstance involved in such an event was met with no less fanfare, much like her later visits. Adorned in yellow from head to toe, matching handbag at her side, with white gloves and a double laced string of pearls and matching earrings, she beamed of summertime. Her large brimmed hat, canary yellow, the rim accented with orange and tan, sat perfectly upon her head, blocking the heavy Toronto sunshine .  
            Once down the airstairs, red carpet carried her to dignitaries such as Ontario Premier Bill Davis and Lieutenant Governor, the Honourable William Ross Macdonald, who would also accompany Elizabeth in her motorcade to downtown Toronto. She boarded the black luxury car and was transported from the airport, the procession following down the 401 to the Don Valley Parkway. Crowds lined the highways and streets of the city, all the way to her destination at Queen's Park, where thousands of waiting Royalists grasped at the hope of just catching a glimpse.
            The morning news declared the impending arrival as we sat at the table for breakfast. My Mom stood drying a pan, watching the television set while spying on her five children, each one set to their place at the dining spot. The table, an heirloom passed down to my mother from her mother, stood large and bold and commanded the space. The 6-foot by 4-foot tabletop expands to 10-foot by 4-foot with the attached insert, but its original state was more than enough to fill the room. The dark, hard oak was finished with veneer as a precaution and for shine. Well over 100 years old, this antique gathering post still remains the centre piece in the dining area of my parent's home.
            The sun mingled with wisps of white and the soft June morning gave warmth in the kindest of ways. The five of us kids, rounded up in the back yard, waited, ready for the adventure ahead. Although the Queen was yet to arrive in Canada, 9:00 a.m. seemed an appropriate time to head out, considering the need for procurement of a vantage place when viewing Her Majesty. The Don Valley Parkway (DVP) runs right through my old neighbourhood and, as a boy, was the best place for "toss the toad", each squished dead by cars zooming past at 60 miles per hour. In 1973, the metric system had not yet been forced upon the citizens of this nation, however, when metrication completed in 1977, 100 kilometres an hour seemed no different to any 10 year old. Bordered by a large concrete wall on our side of the highway, and silver chain-linked fence on the other side, the constant hum of speeding motors was something one just got used to.
            I used to lay awake in bed listening for the sounds of trucks, or police chases, all the time seduced by the drone of all those people, travelling oh so fast. Occasionally, someone would slam on their brakes or hit something, jarring me from the silent revelry of a voyeuristic and vibration-induced coma. When my family moved from the city in 1976, for nights I stayed awake in bed, yearning for the hum of my former youth. Once a week I now journey down the DVP, heading into the heart of the city. When I pass my old place and catch moments fleeting in my mind, I look for toads, high in the air, weapons of children everywhere, but no toads come. 
            All dressed in our summer stock, we headed out onto Roywood Drive, then took a sharp right onto Graydon Hall Drive, going downslope and under the DVP. Finding light past the darkness, the tunnel carried our clan up into glorious sunshine and the thrill about to come. Once out of the tunnel, after a quick jaunt up the hill to the right, the only thing that stood in our way was the hurricane fence, 6 feet tall and spiked with burrs. Its galvanized links formed like a web of metal, no deterrent to other seekers who had found their way to our spot. The woven fence, running vertical, and bent into a zigzag, rose in diamond shapes to its very top where the ending became a double spur of coated steel wire, much jagged.
            We pulled an area of detached fence from the bottom and slid our youngest brother in first. His wheelchair cart pushed carefully through the opening. My two older brothers had already scaled the fence with ease, old hat to a neighbourhood kid. Some of our friends had gathered on both sides of the chain-wire and people scurried about, positioning for the best view and the best reward. My mother was not a fence climber nor an athlete of any sort, but even after birthing 5 children, she managed to scale the fence as if she was 12 again. As she lifted her last leg over, her slacks snagged on a burr. You could hear her silent cursing as she landed safe and sound, her butt bearing a fashion war wound about 6 inches long. I can still see her climbing that wall of wire netting, intent on making this adventure pay off, then fingering fate and claiming, "It just figures!" No one laughed as she gathered my brothers together and directed my sister and I to join her beside the highway. No one laughed, regardless of her pink panties. She took a sweater, wrapped it around her waist and tied it with a knot the size of my 8 year old head. We all pressed against the guardrail, peering into the oncoming traffic for any sign of regal life.
            A lovely summer morning turned into a warm afternoon, as we all waited for a Queen on the side of a highway in the unimpaired sun. I knew of the Queen only from television and the stories my relatives shared on Sunday visits or during family gatherings. I don't recall even caring who or what was coming down the DVP, I cared that I got to see it, whatever it was. With a lot of time on our hands, I managed to notice my right hand and the new scar I would forever adorn. Two months later and the healing was still fresh, quite red and slightly swollen. As I waited at the side of the road, I started to burn like any blond boy would in direct sunlight. The days of sunblock and sunscreen were still to come, so we cooked a little in the midday sun. I found it amusing that the color of my dog bite was deeper than my sunburn. Maybe if I hitchhiked with it, the passing entourage would take notice of my marking and stop to console me. As the motorcade approached, so did the rain. Suddenly, the sky darkened and the wind picked up and the air felt cooler and fresh.
            When the Queen arrived at the airport, some guy with a hand radio screamed the news up and down the shoulder of the thoroughfare. When the motorcade left the airport, the news was met with cheers and excitement. The motorcade travelled east on the 401 highway, past the Yonge Street exit and onto the Don Valley Parkway. The DVP continues south to Lake Ontario and towards what was, that day, a much besieged cityscape leading to Queen's Park. This centre of provincial government, opened in 1860,  was transformed that day into a gathering place for spectators yearning to worship.        
            It wasn't a heavy rain by any means, but what had been a clear morning and lunch hour turned quickly into sun showers and idle onlookers rummaging for anything that would cover their heads. We knew nothing of the oncoming cavalcade when the police cars passed, silently flashing their siren lights. The first black car approached and people rushed to the guardrail, all the while waving yet trying to ward off the wet. As the second, then the third black beauties passed, we all quickly knew what had happened. No half-down window and dainty little glove met a single soul on the side of this tributary. The rain had shut all the convertibles up tight so that no one could even see which vehicle housed the Monarch.  In the blink of an eye, the motorcade rushed past Her people at 55 miles per hour. No one bothered to roll down a window, no one even honked a horn. One would not have known that greatness was passing but for those long black metal dragons and the small British flags floating on both sides of the second car's hood, petty crumbs for the commoners. In mere seconds, it was done.
            Everyone stood in disbelief, mouths dropped and fingers clenched. The disappointment in their faces foreshadowed what was to come for the House of Windsor. As the procession disappeared down the parkway, the rain started to fall heavy on our heads. With one collective sigh, the crescendo of the crowd lifted into abandon as wet gloom soaked everyone, another sign of this frustrating day without end. As the sky opened more, the herd corralled against the fence and freedom. When we reached the other side, we scooted down the hill and back  into the underpass. Secure under the bridge, my mother and her entourage waited out the summer storm.
            As with every other tempest in history, the sun eventually came back out. When we got ourselves home we dried off just like everybody else had to. We changed our clothes while my mother discarded hers for new, then we all sat down at the dining room table for something to eat. It wasn't long before we were all snacking and joking and laughing out loud. Life works that way. Some days are good days and some days are bad days and this was one of them.


Queen's Arrival
June 25th 1973
Toronto Ontario Canada




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