Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Weight of .....

"I am in blood
Stepp'd in so far, that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o'er."
(Macbeth, Act III Sc IV, William Shakespeare)

          We all have things from our past we feel guilty about. Even yesterday we may have offended. Anyone who claims to not experience this form of shame is either lying or lost to this reality. It is a very human condition to err, after all each of us are only human. No one is perfect, no matter how we may try to be. No one is perfect, no matter what we may claim to be. The mistakes we make and the damage we have done are part of us. Guilt is like herpes, you can treat it all you want but it just won't go away. There is no easy fix. The thing about guilt is how it tends to eat away at us. Should we fail to deal with it, to terminate that sense of contrition or reparation, it lingers and often festers like some sore. Although one may never be truly able to rid one's self of the need to amend and repair, we can use our guilt as a springboard, a platform to stand on when we face the harsh world that we live in. We can use our guilt, not to fix the past, but to ensure the future. Consequence is the instigator. Guilt is the teacher.
          Guilt is a necessary evil. Without it we would not learn, we would not evolve as a person. It acts as a protagonist, forcing us to pay attention to the root source of our feelings. Guilt is an agent of change, a tool we can use to move forward, to no longer continue in the manner that has provoked it. Human beings seem to spend their lives battling this constant. Some of the people I have taken the time to observe strike me as weaklings. They just can't handle most of what life hands them. They most certainly do not appear able to deal with the guilt that comes from their decision-making process. People don't just regret, they wallow. They don't understand that their guilt is a constructive element if they let it be. If life is a test, then our guilt is the manifestation of all our errors. We would not improve if we did not heed each state of correction. In the end, to survive, one must embrace the conscience.

"Negative emotions like loneliness, envy, and guilt have an important role to play in a happy life; they're big, flashing signs that something needs to change." (Gretchen Rubin, American author)

          When I look back on the years I spent with my first partner, I can see them. Some were not even subtle in their nature. The things he occasionally said, certain fixations he proclaimed, all were tell tale signs of what was to come. I never realized or understood what they really were. Of course, hindsight makes everything clearer. I never stopped to notice or pay attention to these warnings while he was alive. Once the deed was done, the guilt came. It consumed me. Like a flood it roared and left little behind but rubbish and destruction. I was so overwhelmed, so defeated, that I could not stand another minute of it all. I threw caution to the wind and tried to join him. I tossed myself onto his grave and faded away into darkness. The guilt was a powerful motivator. I kept telling myself, over and over again, if only I had been aware.

"Guilt upon the conscience, like rust upon iron, both defiles and consumes it, gnawing and creeping into it, as that does which at last eats out the very heart and substance of the metal." (Robert South, English clergyman)

          As I awoke in hospital a few days later, nothing had quelled my mission. The first words I said to my parents expressed what I was thinking. My proclamation was exact: "I murdered him. It was my fault." This was the mere beginning of my pain. I took the entire situation, from his suicide to mine, and I placed it on my shoulders. It was a very heavy burden to carry. I felt guilty about everything. I took responsibility for the doing and then blamed myself for the consequence. I was the reason he jumped. I put him up on the edge. It was because of me that he stayed with me. It was because of me that he shared our relationship. It was my fault that he was the way he was. If he had not met me, it would have been a much different world for him. I convinced myself that over six years together had given him little cause to remain. I even blamed myself for not getting back home that night to save him. If only I had been different, then Doug would have been different. I may not have given him the gun but I gave him every reason to pull trigger.
          I am constantly reminded of how unfair life is. The anniversary of twenty years since his death has only cemented this recognition. Existence can be harsh and cruel and unjust, this does not mean our reaction need come from the same place. Just because we think God has forsaken us does not necessarily make it so. I find it rather ironic that the extreme guilt I experienced because I believed I had wronged him drove me to be better, to be different. I owed it to him to make the change. I woke up one day and realized that when the world has gone wrong, only oneself can make it better. All the voices, all the guilt and shame are merely calling out which way you should go. If you listen, each is a bastion of hope in the depths of despair.

"People tend to dwell more on negative things than on good things. So the mind then becomes obsessed with negative things, with judgements, guilt and anxiety produced by thoughts about the future and so on." 
(Eckhart Tolle, German-Canadian author)

          Guilt can act as a catalyst for transfiguration. It can even accelerate any form of  metamorphosis which may have been waiting for the chance to occur. I didn't even have to decide that there was a different path I would follow. I knew it right away, from the get-go. I didn't really even have to try. If we let change happen, it will happen whether we know it or not. It won't happen overnight. It is a process that shifts and wanes as we go through our existence. Although it may be more beneficial to recognize the changes as they progress, it is not necessary. We all may just wake up one day a brand new man. It will come, like Ray Liotta did from that silly cornfield.   
          It is guilt that runs the engine. It is a fuel that pushes us in a forward motion. Sometimes we stall. Something always seems to break us down. The guilt simply lies in waiting, waiting to move us, to point us in the better direction. Mankind has no difficulty in hearing this guiltiness. It is the listening to it that seems to be our biggest obstacle. When we feel guilty, we tend to take it at face value. We tell ourselves we have done something wrong and we even convince ourselves that we can make it go away if we mend the very thing which brought it forth. Why we feel guilty is just as important, if not more so, than any quick solution ever will be. We are the sum of our error, the house that we can build upon the rock or settle on the sand. The act is incidental. It is learning the lesson associated with the act that matters the most. We can use guilt to remake us, to reshape us into something we were not before. We don't have to repeat the same sorry state if we would just pay closer attention. If we heed its call, it can tell us. It is a warning of where we are not supposed to go.

"I'm just going to say it: I'm pro-guilt. Guilt is good. Guilt helps us stay on track because it's about our behaviour. It occurs when we compare something we've done - or failed to do - with our personal values." 
(Brene Brown, American author)

          Two decades later and I still battle the constant drone of fault and mistake and failure. Whether I am standing before his grave or recognizing a like situation, no matter the changes that have occurred, no natter how much things have shifted, I still feel much guilt over what happened. Apparently, it never goes away. I suppose one could argue when the person you love the most jumps from a building and lands on their head, it's hard not to feel some form of regret and blame, no matter how much time has passed. After all, he didn't abandon some stranger. There had to be a reason why he left the way that he did. I have spent the last twenty years of my life trying to figure out that specific question. Sometimes, I was desperate in the search. Sometimes, I was rewarded. Often, I came out from the trip with more questions than answers. Either way, back then, he left me all alone. I must have done something to justify his actions. Obviously, anything which may have made him stay was by no means good enough. I was just not a good enough reason for him to remain.

"Nothing is more wretched than the mind of a man conscious of guilt."
(Titus Maccius Plautus, Ancient Roman playwright)

          I have learned to make these voices into a friend rather than some foe. I have listened and paid attention to that way they have directed me to go. I have adapted, adjusting myself and how they make me feel. All I do know is the effect they had on me. I am not the man I used to be. Doug wouldn't recognize me if he saw me on the street. If we did stop to chat, he would find my thinking foreign to the way I once thought and felt. Identifying his body on that cold metal slab, and the cascade of guilt that consumed me, was the catalyst it was meant to be. I turned guilt into purpose and shame turned into compassion. I allowed the negatives to form into positives. I made something from all the mess. Every time I have a tinge of the old days, whenever I am confronted by this past, I recognize that through it all, I have turned such a horrible thing into a such a useful thing.  I have given benefit to what happened, even if only I can see it. Feeling some sense of guilt once again only convinces me that I did what I was supposed to do.

"I don't want to forgive myself. That's why I hate psychoanalysis. I think if you're guilty of something you should live with it. Get rid of it - how can you get rid of a real guilt? I think people should live with it, face up to it." (Orson Welles, American director/actor)


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Too Many Cooks

“The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.” (Eliezer Wiesel, American author/activist)

            If God hates fags, I am as doomed as doomed can be. So I have been instructed, so I am told, by almost every major religious tradition on this planet. You can argue that the "condition" is genetic in its makeup, a predetermined propensity formed somehow during the gestation period. Like height and hair and eye colour, the disposition exists before birth and is cultivated throughout the development of a child. This presumption has little scientific evidence to support it. It is a theory which contradicts the very word of God. Regardless of observations made from the natural world around us or arguments against the meaning of specific scriptures, homosexuality has once again become the sin that dares not speak its name.
            Yes, the world is changing how it views gay men and women, but beneath the smiles and friendly welcomes, there is still an underlying stigma towards the queer nation. I will even make the claim that many people have opened their minds to the possibility of some Divine purpose in our existence. Whether we are a form of population control in an overpopulated world or merely a greater expression of a historical presence dating back to the origins of man, being gay is now okay but only in specific areas that no longer cling to their high moral standards. In fact, if you are caught in the act in certain countries, the death penalty still exists as a frightening possibility. Although not many people use the word "nigger" in a public forum, making great claims of enlightenment and inclusivity, I believe when they slip into a private place it's a different story. I do not think it is only "the few" who hold to their racist and archaic judgments. So too these unexpressed and often lifelong biases towards homosexuals are now kept in secret, unspoken and unacceptable in a public place or mixed company. Behind closed doors, God still hates fags and the majority of the world does too.
            We think the fools on the corner spouting about abominations are a thing of the past, but they are not. Homophobic comments and actions are no longer culturally acceptable in most parts of North America but all those haters didn't just up and die because some laws got changed. I see it every day as I wander throughout my world. Being a non-stereotypical gay man, I can hide in plain sight. I get an inside glimpse into the mystery of hate and ignorance. A few weeks ago, I was standing in line at the grocery store when a very brightly dressed and flamboyant young man strolled by with what appeared to be his hag. The very old and very short straight couple in front of me noticed him right away. I half expected (from the look on his face) that the aged husband was about to speak with disdain. Instead the little old lady muttered, "Damn queers," spewing out in disgust. As she spun back around to move forward in line, she smiled at me ever so sweetly. I wanted to smack her and explain just how much of an ignorant bitch she had just been. Although I encounter this sort of thing all the time, I said nothing.  My camouflage has allowed me to see clearly but I find it difficult to break any social silence that comes with me. It's disheartening, considering just how far the gay population have come in this part of the world. I suppose it could be worse.
            The story of Matthew Sheppard aside, it is no longer commonplace for lesbians and gay men in western civilization to meet a violent end. Bashing and attacks against homosexuals may have decreased with our modern hate laws but they still exist nonetheless. In other parts of the world, the consequence for being homosexual can prove fatal. In Russia, Uganda, and even the United States, reports still surface in the media of assaults, including those causing death. In other parts of the world, governments and religious establishments take a hard line on what they consider sexual depravity. It's not a completely rampant situation by any means. Most certainly it isn't like things used to be, that's for sure. Homosexuals can now speak out and be heard in exclusive corners. We no longer have to be silent. We still have to be careful. We must heed their silent fears. Rather than our existence being hidden the way it used to be, we now must wonder just who remains ignorant and violent towards us. In my opinion, as with racism, a reverse has happened. It is socially unacceptable to discriminate, but only when you get caught. Homophobia reigns in private and dares not make its claim.

“When we don't know who to hate, we hate ourselves.”
(Invisible Monsters, Chuck Palahniuk 1999)

            It's no secret, I have never wanted to be gay. It is still something I would consider changing if given the opportunity. I may be happy and lead a fruitful (so to speak) life, but those old tapes from years of conditioning play whenever it suits their purposes. If all the lessons from the past are correct, only the voice of gay people has evolved. Yes, regardless of my spiritual growth, I still feel separation from God because I am a gay man. I was taught to think this way. I occasionally still feel shame and sinful in my nature even though I realized long ago this is just not the case. I am self-actualized yet I still wish things had been different for me. I have a loving, long-term relationship. For the most part, my family has never condemned me for the path I have followed. Even some of those religious establishments have adjusted their propaganda and welcomed the  homosexual into the fold.  Mass media, social networking and a general public consensus appear to have dismissed the idea that gay men and women make a choice to be homosexual, but many individuals hold to their once acceptable bigotry.
            It often feels like people have simply discarded their very visible bias and now fear reprisal for expressing their continuing position. It may have become politically incorrect to use words like "fag" and "dyke," but I firmly believe this is only a forced constitution. People of ethnic background, women, African Americans, and even Muslims, all still face the same mistrust and contempt that gay people do. We simply don't seem to understand that this discrimination is now nothing but a hidden expression, a private hate and ignorance. The Church, governments, warlords and the rest, have clearly mixed their scorn into the western democratic melting pot. While I realize it is my responsibility to discern what to listen to, it can be a trying exercise when our civilization struggles with far too many cooks. Gay rights, Hollywood and more far left-wing liberals have made it easier to exist in this social setting but even they seem to have added to the confusion. We live in a world where it's no longer a question of what you do but your God given right to do it. Of course, traditional religious thought on the matter continues to hold. The world is still an ugly place.       
            All the good vibrations tossed around these days seem silly when you realize they have done little. This new age we strive to live within is but a clutter and mess most people simply toss into the closet at the end of the day. It's ironic, to say the least. Homosexuals have been marginalized for so long that we seem blind to the real world around us. In most of North America, we can marry. We have festive parades and dance in celebration of the freedoms we have earned. We are families, we are visible, we even hold office and make new laws. All the while, it appears we are ignoring the fundamental conflict with the world at large around us. We think things have changed in our lifetime, and much has, but they have only polished up the presentation. Gay men and women, generally speaking, are still viewed with the same callous and archaic attitudes. People just save the hate for their home time. It is clear, there are those who still see us not for who we are but for what we do in the privacy of our bedroom. For every step forward, there grows more contempt. For every progression we have made, there is still condemnation, still wilful and deliberate actions against us.    

“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”
(The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin 1963)

            On the occasion that someone inquires about my life, I have no hesitation revealing my proclivity. Still, I can't help but wondering what they are thinking. Disclosing something so personal can change the way a person regards you. Once when I was asked about my sexual nature, the inquiry led to an unexpected revelation. Telling someone you are gay can be a very revealing exercise. "I can't believe that you're a cocksucker," was pretty much all she had to say on the matter. It is not often I have contact with her.  Just weeks before his death, my first partner and I were walking hand in hand through "the village" in downtown Toronto. This large area, just east of Yonge Street, hosts the annual gay pride parade and a growing homosexual community. Doug and I just assumed we were safe in our expression. Just as we thought the coast was clear, cries of "faggot" met us on our way. As the vehicle drove by, we could not ignore our friend hanging out the window pointing. The jig was up.
            The time we spent in Toronto the year before made a huge difference for me and my comfort zone. I embraced my own identity. I learned to accept myself. The greatest challenge I had left was coming out to my family. This inconvenient responsibility I put off as long as I could. I didn't want them thinking hateful things about me. I didn't want to give them an insight into my sexuality. I didn't give a rat's ass if they liked it or not, I cared that they had access to my private actions. Coming out to someone is old hat to me now but when I first experimented with the revelation, I didn't appreciate being thought of as a sodomite or a poof. I can't tell you how many times I still hear people claim, "I never would have guessed you were like that," or "Why would you choose to lead such a difficult lifestyle?" The more things change, well you know...  
            The year after the event on Church Street found my partner deceased, my life in ruins and the old tapes playing once again. Any growth I had made in my movement forward was dashed against the rocks by my friends, my Saviour and my grief. With Doug dead and buried, the tide turned against me. Almost every single friend I had accumulated, whether from academic or social circles, discarded me without a second thought. Almost each one of them failed to even consult me on their effort. People just faded away without even a word. Those who lingered made it perfectly clear that having lied to them all those years was their main objection. "You lied to me," they would say. "And you lied to me about that," seemed their conclusion. After 20 years, I maintain two relationships with people I knew before 1995. Of course, both are gay. Not once since the suicide has anyone from that time contacted me. A few years ago I ran across one such person online. I sent messages through their webpage, I tried to re-establish any form of dialogue. The only response I ever received struck me to my core. "I have children now," she used as her excuse. She made it clear that not much had changed.
            There is still a constant deluge from outer anti-gay sources, particularly from the realm of religion.  One can be welcomed into the fold, made a part of the "family," but when claims are tossed about that every word of scripture is true, it's like pissing on a seat just before someone sits down. While there are exceptions to every rule, for the most part, at base homosexuality and God do not frequent the same pulpit. It's like this all around the world. I have always found it confusing when other people feel the need to condemn when they too have their own sins and flaws. Depending on where you seek direction and who is giving it, the cornucopia of spiritual guidance on the matter can confuse and give great reason for pause. The United Church of Canada minister who instructed me that Jesus was not the only way to heaven, and that God could care less what I do in the privacy of my own home, was comforting and rather surprising. All his compassion fell away from me when a Pentecostal preacher informed me that my homosexuality was simply a demon who had possessed me and that Jesus (and scripture) was the only way to find salvation. This divine intervention left me empty and feeling quite deserted. The Buddhist monk was refreshing until I discovered any peace to be obtained was at the expense of my physical desires. I won't even venture into what the Shiite Imam emailed me as a solution to my separation from God. Although the Metropolitan Community Church of Greater Toronto has simply erased any relevant spiritual commentary, the Catholic nun I interviewed tossed them into my face for good measure. It's hard to keep track of what God is trying to tell you when His message seems inconsistent and seems to depend entirely on one's religious affiliation.

“In time we hate that which we often fear.”
(Anthony and Cleopatra, William Shakespeare c.1607)

            I like to think of myself as clear-minded. I learned to ignore the noise of the day-to-day years ago. I am very focused, almost to a fault. I try to maintain a balance and equilibrium throughout my life. When someone or something interferes with my stability, I am forced to rid my calm. It's easy to edit when it's a one-on-one thing. When you have one thousand voices or more yelling at your brain, it can be difficult to sort through them and weed out the culprits. I realize that I must strive in knowing who to and not to listen to, but everyone has their very own opinion and usually have little trouble forcing it on others. Our modern world is overgrown with all kinds of information. Couple the internet with television, radio and other media and the noise can be overwhelming. Even the same signal can have a different message.
            There is no denying that in parts of the world, it is new day for gay people. The possibilities are endless if we just give it time. This does not diffuse the underlying sense of ignorance and even hate that still flourishes away from prying eyes. It's not easy to shut out all these differing attitudes and opinions when modernity grants then access. I fully understand why gay youth continue to kill themselves at an alarming rate. Most times, it hits you from all sides. Mixed messages, tax-free hatred and constant chaos can be more than enough to clog your ability to act and think clearly. You have to close your eyes and try not to listen. This is not an easy feat considering all the noise that remains. When you have 7 billion stirring the pot, what do you expect?  

“There is no beauty in sadness. No honour in suffering. No growth in fear. No relief in hate. It’s just a waste of perfectly good happiness.”
(Katerina Stoykova Klemer, Bulgarian-American poet)




Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Here, Now

"You give so much
Juggle it all with a smile
You tame the tornadoes with style
How do you keep it all up?
I guess because every day comes to an end
You get up and do it again
No matter whatever gets done"

            Everyone is special in their own unique way. Whether we recognize this fact is irrelevant, it is still, very much, quite true. All human beings have wonderful and loving spirits, regardless of our actions and thoughts. Each soul has an innate ability to strive and carry on. Although life has a way of corrupting any joy which enters that life, there is joy nonetheless. From the most defeated to the most despicable, human beings have a capacity for surviving whatever comes. At base, we all face the day, then dream just to begin again. There may be those who give in to the depth of despair, and others who relish behaving badly, but it only takes a catalyst, a mere moment to summon that sense. Granted, the things you juggle about may not allow for a pleasant view, but there is one just waiting to be seen. It doesn't matter what we think. Through all the struggle, and storms, through everything we say and feel and do, there is a promise of peace when you cross into that moment. The only real way to survive is to seize it.
            We spend so much time looking behind and looking ahead that we rarely take the time to look here, to see now. Stopping to notice is not an easy thing to do. There is so much noise in this modern way of living. There is so much information but most of it really says nothing at all. Living has become a case of mistaken identity. We all claim we are fine, we all say it's okay, but deep inside each of us knows something is not right. We have become swallowed up by ourselves. We kneel by the river and see nothing but our own reflection. There is nothing else at all. We take for granted everything that is part of the world around us. We no longer take the moment or take the chance. We don't see because we have forgotten how to look. We cannot move past our own little world because we really believe nothing else matters but me. I am guilty myself of peering into  the ripple. After all, whatever good comes from this life seems out-equalled by the more unpleasant and negative chaos that seems to come out of nowhere. Yes, life is unfair. Yes, life can suck shit. I stand convinced that in everything, both the good and the bad, there is more to this world than we know. You have to stop to get the best view. Once you stop, and take notice, you automatically change.
            I am confident that every single human being who ever walked the planet possessed the capacity for good. I would argue even those who do not, or did not, possess the ability to choose for good still had the spark within. I believe Ted Bundy cried himself to sleep, even if just once. I believe Hitler asked himself, "What am I doing?" These ignitions may have been fleeting but I believe they were there. They still are there, in every one of us. Life isn't about where you end up, it's about how you got to where you are. Albeit, not everyone has the capacity to discern. Not everyone gets to choose the direction they head into. Quite often, the very fabric of who we are, our makeup, will determine our course of action. Sometimes circumstance is out of our hands. I still believe that each of us can, at least, try to find the better way. I know that over twenty-five years of battling a chemical imbalance has demonstrated to me that the still, small voice remains even if we are unable to listen, unable to follow it. 

"Welcome yourself to the messy moment
Welcome yourself to be here now
Open your arms, open your heart
When some of that love comes back around
Ready to climb when you see the mountain
Ready to run when you feel the storm
Learning to try, learning to fly, learning to fall
Welcome yourself to it all"

            At first, it can seem hard to embrace the here and now. We have so much on our plates most of the time that we barely have the chance to breathe, let alone capture the moment and live in the moment. We are all in such a hurry to get things done. More often than not, we don't even realize what has slipped on by. When we are old and reflective, I doubt we will wish we had spent more time at work, more time with our technology and more time counting our money. I am convinced, if more people stopped to see life surround them, stopped to smell the roses, our society would be a very different place. When we embrace our life, when we recognize this moment, we find clarity and rejuvenation. The more we live in the now, versus then and someday, we gain a fortitude to face all of our fears and sorrows. We see them more as lessons than struggle. They become a challenge, not some punishment. The good and the bad are fluctuations, the ebb and flow of the universe calling out your name. It doesn't recall a time gone by. It doesn't speak of what will be. 
All that matters is here, now.
            You can get lost in this life. Our trials and tribulations often drown out any promise of a new day. When someone is vicious, or narcissistic, when their life is in chaos, I try to look past what they are doing, and saying, and peer into the reasons why they are acting so. I may not be able to determine specifics but simply by empathizing, even with a villain, I can more fully understand the plight brought on by their humanity. How someone responds to their challenges can be more revealing that knowing the challenges themselves. In the most humble sense, we are all lost on the highway that we travel. The good will come and the bad will come, but most of us have a choice which to listen to. Life will hit you from all sides, constantly, so you really only have this one choice. You can give into the torrent which tries to sweep you away or you can seek higher ground and watch the river flow past. Let's be honest, understanding does little to make it all go away. For most of us, it really is a case of same shit, different day.

"So now it's you
Stuck in the wake of these words
So many others have heard
Wondering how you'll get through
You just let go
Into the music that plays
Dance with the songs as they change
That's how you'll know what to do"

            On my birthday, May 15th 1983, I sat in a movie theatre with my friends and watched Tom Cruise puff on a smoke. This rather obvious ploy only convinced me to try. Over thirty years later and I am still stuck in this risky business. I have managed to tuck away at least a pack a day for well over three decades. If I was a pirate, they would call me Black Lung. I have no idea why these deadly sticks have had such a power over me. I have barely gone a day without one, even if I was trying to quit. When I had an addiction problem with morphine in the mid-90s, getting off it was easier than quitting smoking has ever been. I have seen a brighter day. I have witnessed such beauty. I embrace this life fully; every second, every moment. All the while I would take a drag off of death and knowingly throw caution to the wind.  
            It started as most things do. A small ache when swimming or a subtle tinge on a long walk, but it all could be easily explained away. There was really nothing obtrusive about any of the warnings signs. I went on my merry way, ignoring the very things that were trying to save me. I can be a fool. I make grand claims that God speaks to us through the things we know, but I constantly disregard Him screaming in my ear. My Aunt died a horrible death, consumed by the fury of lung cancer. My Father has experienced several heart attacks and suffered from angina ever since he quit smoking in the late 1970s. My Mom died of a massive heart attack, but I recklessly ignored the finger pointing in my face. I have a genetic predisposition to heart disease, diabetes and cancer. I have never paid heed to these cautionary claims. I have given in to reckless abandon, over and over, well knowing where it will lead. I was so wrapped up in my own magnificence that I never noticed   I stood up on my soapbox, preaching of awareness and conviction, all the time blowing smoke in everyone's face.  For months, the pain and discomfort had only gotten worse.
            Once they had studied the symptoms, they laid it out for me. Only the process to determine just how much damage I have done to myself remained to be seen. They gave me a warning.  You never know with the heart just when it will break. Any second, here and now, could be my last. The attacks are quite interesting. They start with the weight of an elephant sitting on my chest. The weight comes from the outside, pushing in, but there is something inside also pushing out. It is heavy and makes it hard to breathe. The pressure turns to ache, as tingles cross my torso and travel down my left arm. Once their journey is complete, the pain comes. It is not sharp like a stabbing would be. It does not pierce through my being, causing me to scream. It is a dull thing, an uncomfortable languish that makes me stop in my tracks when no one is around. I didn't want anyone to know the severity of my circumstance. If I had an attack (they are very random), I would just carry on with what I am doing. No one seemed to notice my cause.
            When the I's are all dotted and the bathwater gone, I will be fully informed and able to be precise. Until then, I wanted to tell no one of my predicament. I hate it when someone "informs" you but doesn't have a period at the end of their sentence. All the maybes in the world don't add up to one for sure. It seems cruel to tell someone if you don't really know yourself. Why would anyone want to worry someone they love? It is better to wait and find out everything than scream and cry over what could be. This was my decision and I am sure that it was the right thing to do. People have such chaotic lives, such unrest. I would not allow myself to be responsible for adding more until I knew whether there is more to be responsible for. When I left my diagnosis, one would imagine I would have been shocked and terrified. One wrong move, one unpredictable moment and I could crash and burn. It was probable that I would need surgery. There was no question, things would have to change. I walked out of the clinic and down the long street to my car and I thought of those things. As with the rest of my life, there would be a price to survival. I would have to choose which way I should go. I made it to the vehicle and I headed out of this city towards home.

"Welcome yourself to the messy moment
Welcome yourself to be here now
Open your arms, open your heart
Let some of that love come back around
Ready to climb when you see the mountain
Ready to run when you see the storm
Ready to try, ready to fly, ready to fall
Welcome yourself to it all"

             In late autumn, the countryside of Ontario, Canada is beautiful in its starkness. Some trees have yet to shed and their colors stand in contrast to those empty brothers and sisters surrounding them. Fields have been tilled over and any leaves which remain float across pastures and roadsides and gather in ditches. The land appears to be dying a long, cold death. As I started out from London to Kitchener, my mind raced over the news of the day. I think, for me, the thing that stood out the most was the chance that I may have to have bypass surgery. Of course, doctors always tell you what might be before they know what will be. Still, the new reality of walking on pins and needles did not greet me in a friendly way. As I crossed the fading landscape, I could not help but to think of giving in and doing nothing. Maybe, just maybe, it was time to stop fighting, to give in to the nature of this beast. This life has been so hard, such a struggle, maybe now I could just surrender to rest. If I told no one, changed nothing, and I led my little life, eventually I could just escape it all. I wouldn't even have to jump.
            The edge of the city is like a scene from Dickens. Civilization creeps ever forward, it seems to never stop. Suddenly, where there were hills and trees and farmland, the manmade jungle almost instantly appeared. Nature, once again, is swallowed up in the blink of an eye. The pristine and the population only mix with a goodbye. It was one of those days that should make you glad to be alive. It was not that the news I had just been privy to didn't give me great pause, but I could not escape the beauty as I passed it by. The sun was large and low in the sky. The moon was peeking from on high and you could tell the darkness had begun to slowly invade. Somehow, in some way, all the chaos disappeared with the city I had left behind me. My mind became clear and I was able to find my place. Once again, I was in the moment and the cares of the world fell away like finished summer leaves. All that mattered was here, now.

"All I can do is open my heart up and begin
How do I know the time that I've got?
How do I live til then?"
(Welcome Yourself, Amy Grant 2014)

            Whether it was Amy Grant on the CD player, or the dimming of the sheltering sky, by the time I got home I had found my resolve once again. The tiny moments of awareness, recognizing the now, which I experienced all the way home, really balanced me out. I would have to choose the way I would go, then I realized that this too shall pass. I had to know what to listen to. Sometimes I forget that for all the fixes and proper things to do, for all this being kind, I am still just a human being trying to get through intact. I will wait for the painting to be completed before I go shoving it in anyone's face. In the end, I did what I needed to do and I did what I always do. I will survive. When the world is too much, when I can't take any more, I'll simply breathe and surrender to a proper peace. The very best tools we have for surviving are acceptance and fortitude. The only effective time to use both is here and now.


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

I, Megus

Chapter Ten
I, Megus

“Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly, and listen to others,
even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.
Be yourself.
Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love – for in the face
of all aridity and disenchantment
is it perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit
 to shield you from misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labours and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life
keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams,
 it is still a beautiful world.”
(A Poem for a Way of Life: Desiderata, Max Ehrmann 1948)


Kitchener Ontario