Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Three Fingers

            The charge was dangerous driving and the sentence was 90 days. The Exeter Road Correctional Facility in London, Ontario was a minimum security detention centre but it was a prison nonetheless. With one third off the sentence automatically dropped, then another third lowered for good behaviour, I could easily ride out the remaining 30 days. So I thought. There was fear of the other inmates, anxiety at the idea of my world going on without me, but the most trying experience of the whole matter was being locked up in my cage for hours on end. On the 9th day of my detention, I was released. I was awarded a "Temporary Absence Pass" which allowed me to complete my time on weekends. Each Saturday and Sunday, I had to perform assigned duties, as with community service. I did my duty and then went on with my life. I was never in any real trouble with the law ever again (at least I didn't get caught). I believed I was rehabilitated but I would argue that I am more medicated than anything else. 
            My strongest memory of those few days when I was trapped, incarcerated, is not necessarily a negative one. It just happens to be rather strange. For the first few hours, I just sat pacing in my room, but only in my head. I felt like screaming. When we were forced to congregate on the range (number 4), I slumped down against the wall next to my cell and I started reading. Enrolled in a college at the time, I was allowed to bring in a few textbooks so I could study for my courses. I sat there, endlessly, skimming over the material. By the second day, I started to actually pace in my cell as well as out on the range. Surprisingly, I was asked to join in on a game of euchre while one player had visitation. I was reluctant, but not for lack of skill. I agreed and played well, although quietly. I found myself lowering who I was in order to fit in. No one wants to bully the nice kid on the block. When everyone likes you, you have no enemy.
            My incarceration began on May 6th 1988. By the time my birthday arrived on May 15th, I was calm and polite to the naked eye, but inside I was ready to make a break for it. I never understood what the experience of jail was really like and I still don't, not really. It went well for me. I played them all like those cards. It was actually a birthday to remember, regardless of my location on that day. I was informed of my release come the next morning and my family visited me in the afternoon. My parents' support only encouraged me more. I had almost made it through. When I returned to the range after the visit, a few of my euchre pals had piled up wads of butter and lit a match which they placed dead centre. The birthday wishes were muted and without song (you don't sing in prison). Looking back on the whole experience, I am humbled and see great purpose in the time I spent in jail. The people I came in contact with were not monsters, they were people, just like anyone else might be. Albeit, a minimum security facility does not expose one to the more severe criminal, it still allowed me to explore the boundaries of my own empathy and I learned just how similar people really are.  We might react differently to how we feel but the feelings are always the same.


            I walked into the Church half expecting Jesus to greet me at the door. From the beginning of my indoctrination, whenever I dealt with anyone fundamentalist I always felt like I was being watched by some ethereal being. God was always with me and He would not go away. It may not have been the Lord that I experienced, but this is no way minimized the effect on me. I had been invited as a newly born-again Christian to indulge in an afternoon of worshipping God and interacting with other people of the Faith. It was a strange day indeed. I immediately took the position of observer. Truth be told, my primary attraction was more curiosity than any attempt at righteousness. I just wanted to witness firsthand the kind of zealous praising I had for the most part only heard about. I must admit I was slightly dimwitted at the time. I had convinced myself, in a sanctuary full of white people, that a gospel choir of 100 fat black singers in bright blue robes would soon appear to praise His name. Even then I watched far too much religious programming on television.
            It was odd watching approximately 75 people stand and wave their hands in the air, as if they were at a football game. I was disappointed that the "metachronal rhythm" from the group didn't result in a stadium wave. It was even stranger to have the 'house band' pump out rock song after rock song. This was not the music of my Faith at the time. We had gathered near the altar call, at the front of the crowded room. Teenagers, old women, and even small children were somehow void of anything but joy. Many ethnic groups were represented and one disabled girl in a wheelchair set the scene just right. In secret, I imagined I was there as a member of the LGBT community but I am sure this revelation was not the one sought in prayer that day. The reading was followed by a quick sermon on the gifts of the Spirit and then the music started to play once again. With little experience in proper fundamentalism, I kept questioning in my head what Jesus would think of these shenanigans. I understood the genre but I was not accustomed to it in what was supposed to be a Holy place. Halfway through a song, the madness set in.
            The lead singer started voicing in a foreign tongue, one I did not recognize. It was more like a babble, a random flowing of what might be words, spewing from her mouth. The band joined in this singing. Slowly after, it spread like a plague, the adult congregation joined in a very uncomfortable chant. They waved to the music, mumbled into the air and some even shook like a tiny earthquake would. In hindsight, I understand the glossolalia they practiced was not the xenoglossy they had preached, but it mattered little to me at the time. I wouldn't say I was enchanted by the display, more disengaged. I just wasn't sure what the hell was going on. I wasn't prepared for this seemingly contrived and well-controlled spectacle. At the end of the afternoon, I left with a rather bad taste in my mouth. I double checked to make sure it wasn't locust. For over 2 years of attendance, I sat and watched as follower after follower incoherently bounced the Spirit around like an epileptic. The lesson was never hard to learn. These people felt that God was moving through them when they were actually making it up. All the voices, for all those years, and not one spoke French or Mandarin. There was no discernable message. Not one of the experiences I witnessed was scripturally accurate. People really can convince themselves something is real and actual, even if it's the furthest thing from the truth.  

            I had spent the last of my cash on a roast beef sub and a bottle of Coke in Los Angeles. I boarded the eastbound Greyhound bus, used my return fare, then found my place eventually to watch as the desert approached. It would be a 3-day tour from the City of Angels to the bus station in downtown Detroit. For most of it, I suffered without any source of food. I used my empty Coke bottle and filled it with bathroom water at scheduled stops along the way. I maintained my window seat, located almost at the back, and awaited my fate. Untreated for my Bi-Polar disorder at the time, I had peaked out, manic to the most, and ended up 3500 kilometres away from my home near Toronto, Ontario. I simply disappeared, telling no one where I was going or if I would return. It was an impulse trip, an escape from the world my mind had convinced me sought to harm me. I had convinced myself to harm myself. I really only wanted to get away, to be free, but the reality hit me when I started to come down. For days, I wandered about LA. When regret set in, I called my Mom, who quickly talked me into coming home. They would pick me up in the Motor City and chauffeur me back to all my consequence. I had done many things before my exodus.
            By the time the bus pulled into the station in Omaha, Nebraska, I was weak in the knees. Not once in my entire life had I gone that long without food before. The idea of any awaiting punishment was nothing when compared to my newly found hunger. With a one hour layover before departure to Chicago, I journeyed away from the depot to stretch my legs and pray for mercy. I have never been much of a praying man. Even back when I was somewhat Christian in my thinking, I felt that asking God for stuff was obtuse and narcissistic. At this moment in time, one would imagine such an expression would be somehow fitting. I felt chastised and under deliberate attack. Of course, it was God who had done the damage despite my own behaviour. I walked through the quiet town, ever asking for intervention. I imagined that Omaha would somehow transform itself come the light of day. At night, it was a deserted place, quiet and simple and worn. Everything seemed so old and abandoned. Somehow the place was a reflection of myself, a mirror to the emptiness that had long ago taken control. I implored anything Holy to act on my behalf and assist me in this hour of need.
            I had passed the empty lot on the way to some place, then cut through on the way back to some place else. A flimsy looking "for sale" sign sat propped up at one corner, against a mound of gravel and medium sized stones. Clumps of grass and weed criss-crossed the property but did little to smooth the path. One second the ground beneath me was firm, then a trench would catch my foot and attempt to trip me. I had to watch my footing as I headed toward the other side. Near centre, eyes stuck on the ground, it appeared to me. A single $20.00 bill sat waving hello to my weary face. From those lingering and very inconvenient holes came my salvation, or at least it felt like that at the time. It was one of the strangest events in my history. Something finally granted me reprieve, regardless of whether is was true or not. It seemed I had actually received assistance from God. It was exactly the break I  needed, not to mention the very thing I had begged for. As I headed back towards the bus station, I gave thanks for my answered prayer. I had never experienced one of them before.

            If there is one thing I have taken from this life so far, it is the idea that everything holds a lesson. There is purpose in the connectivity of this universe. I believe we are here to experience these experiences, that they are woven into the very fabric of our reality. You have to recognize when God speaks to you through the things you know. All your answers lie waiting within. They are not miracles or special favours, they are for everyone and all have access. If you pay attention, you can see this rhythm in the rather mundane. When the song you just mentioned comes on the radio, this is a connection. When your long lost friend calls on the very day you mention them, this is a connection. When something weird occurs, when you encounter the surreal, there is a connection.   You might think it is mere coincidence, but coincidence is simply God pointing a finger. Déjà vu and things sublime simply identify to us how time is linear, that what will be is not so much set but available. If  you use what you have been given, no matter how odd or strange that experience might be, it can hold valuable information.  
            Often the ridiculous stands out much greater than some everyday experience. Things appear strange to draw our attention to them. The uniqueness of these encounters acts to focus the attentive mind. To recognize the lesson is the purpose. Whether we come to recognize common ground with our fellow man through dairy products or understand the imperfection of manmade religions, we can learn if we really want to. Sometimes God even seems to intercede. Tiny little miracles happen all around us but we fail to see them. God doesn't speak to us as a rock or a fig leaf. Burning bushes, flying horses, even visions on the way to Damascus, these strange and memorable oddities are engrained into the human collective. I believe that's why they are weird. We would forget them otherwise. Sometimes, God even uses more than one finger.



Wednesday, December 16, 2015

I Am Charlie

"I am of course confident that I will fulfill my tasks as a writer in all circumstances -- from my grave even more successfully and more irrefutably than in my lifetime. No one can bar the road to truth, and to advance its cause I am prepared to accept even death. But may it be that repeated lessons will finally teach us not to stop the writer's pen during his lifetime? At no time has this ennobled our history." (Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Russian novelist/critic)

            In the early 1990s, I worked for several years as the Media Co-ordinator at Lambton College in Sarnia, Ontario. I was responsible for programming the on-campus radio station, for press releases, acquiring advertisement revenue and producing the monthly student newspaper, The Other Side. During my tenure, one of the comedians that was brought in as a student activity was banned because of his jokes "against" women. All he had to say to me on the matter was, "These bitches are once again giving me grief." I did not react so cavalierly. I penned an entire issue of the student voice against censorship. On the front cover, I asked whether people were offended or not by my choice of photograph. Having secured the rights from National Lampoon, I used a pseudo-advertisement that had appeared in one of their recently published magazines. The parody photo was of a man in his swimming trunks chasing two topless women, all holding drinks, running down a tropical beach. The sponsor "ClubHed" made their pitch like any real resort would. The headline ran across the top reading, "Run around with your dick hanging out," then across the bottom, "and hump whoever you want." The issue was a huge success among the student body with little complaint. Although a second printing was required, that did not influence several instructors at the college who filed a Human Rights complaint against me. They demanded I retract my opinion and the use of the image. I refused and was interviewed and interrogated. I noted to the Tribune how I had been granted permission to use the ad and of the availability of the magazine containing the piece throughout the city. Case dismissed. I suppose the response of the institution's staff answered any questions I might have regarding being offended. They all missed the lesson. It did not matter the subject, it was censorship that was at issue. It was such a nice gesture of them to prove my point.

“When truth is replaced by silence, the silence is a lie.”
(Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Russian poet/activist)

            The first real assignment I took after the death of my partner was for a local newspaper, The Age Dispatch. Despite the limited circulation, and the size of Strathroy, I submitted the piece. When it was published, I barely recognized my point. The editor had removed anything which may have been construed as offensive or derogatory. The article had been "trimmed of the fat," but I maintained that the fat was the part of the article that  made it "taste" good. It doesn't matter the subject matter, or the edited parts, it was the surgical precision with which the content in question had been removed that stood out to me. Not one line of the piece was without sources. Not one statement was untrue. It seemed, and it still does, that only those areas dealing with a specific target audience had been banished. God forbid a group of people should have to read the truth about themselves. God forbid someone should be offended. When I complained to the editor, he actually offered me another article if I would keep within the boundaries of conventional journalism. I needed to learn how to edit out my subjective interpretations and stick to an objective presentation. I never worked for the newspaper again. It seemed contrived to me that the editor would ask me to delve into the psyche of my focus group, then pull the entire point of the piece to a completely different place. I was censored because that's how mainstream media does what it does. It's not interested in the truth, just a version of the truth homogenized to a target audience. While I am unaware of any personal issues the editor had with my work, it was clear from his hatchet job that he was preferring someone other than the guy who did the writing. Although I have had several offers for these types of submissions since then, I tend to stay away from print news. You can end up giving away your words, kidnapped by space and censors.

”We do not fear censorship for we have no wish to offend with improprieties or obscenities, but we do demand, as a right, the liberty to show the dark side of wrong, that we may illuminate the bright side of virtue -- the same liberty that is conceded to the art of the written word, that art to which we owe the Bible and the works of Shakespeare." (D.W. Griffiths, American film director)

            One of the things that people are surprised to learn about me is how I love to sing. It is a pleasure I have indulged in since the time I was a very young boy. From stage productions to talent shows, I have always enjoyed the expression. I was in all the choirs, performed at many benefits but mostly I sang at the front of my Church. I can still see my Mother accompanying me on her autoharp, sitting on a step in the sanctuary. Back then, the pews were usually full on any given Sunday. It's not like that any longer. I sang at bars, winning several karaoke contests and I have even sang at funerals. I sang at my sister's wedding and I sing every day as I live out my musical life. I have only one memory of censorship associated with my singing. About a year after the death of my first partner, in the summer of 1996, my friend Brenda and I were asked to sing a duet for the Sunday morning service. This was not the first time we had agreed to be the spiritual entertainment, but we had not sang together on those previous occasions. Our voices fit like a symphony would. Our well-trained instruments played off each other and our song seemed filled with something beyond ourselves. The contemporary Gospel tune, "Heaven," performed originally by Michael English, was an obvious choice for us both. The hardcore message of unity and agape love rang through the mix of pop, soul and rhythm and blues. Even scriptural references jumped out within the song, of the lion and the lamb and their walking together in peace (Isaiah 11:6). Unfortunately, there was no peace to be found. One Thursday evening after choir practice, Brenda and I stayed late to  run a sound check and make sure things were good to go for the coming Sunday. It just so happened that the organist, Larry, walked through the sanctuary, interrupting our rehearsal. The next day, the rug was pulled out from beneath our feet. Apparently "that" kind of genre was unacceptable to the music director's taste. With a contract that gave him final say over all music, our journey to the other side was lost, gone forever. Both Brenda and I left the Church. I have not returned but I cannot speak for her. Larry died in the mid-2000s, a microcosm (to me) of how religion really works.

“It's now very common to hear people say, 'I'm rather offended by that.' As if that gives them certain rights. It's actually nothing more... than a whine. 'I find that offensive.' It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. 'I am offended by that.' Well, so fucking what." (Stephen Fry, English comedian/activist)

             For millennia, the Church has been controlling not only what we say (and think) but how we say it (and think it). Censorship hid behind claims of heresy and blasphemy. Those who spoke out against the establishment were excommunicated, imprisoned, and even killed for their ideas. Religious censorship dates back to the beginnings of religion. Those who opposed the teachings of their chosen belief structure often met with a terrible fate. Secret societies and underground movements formed because of this fear. It was not above the Church to slaughter a parishioner for what they believed. You could count on some form of retribution by God (so to speak) if you dared declare anything Holy unacceptable, particularly through a public means.
            The more things change the more they stay the same. Instead of Inquisitions, we now have Shariah Law and Jihad. You can't post a picture of the Prophet without worrying about losing your head. Journalists, cartoonists and anyone who sits next to them, are prime targets of this violent religious censorship. Anything that might offend the sensitive nature of such an entity as Allah means open season on the freedom of speech. On January 7th 2015, Saïd and Chérif Kouachi (brothers) forced their way into the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical French weekly newspaper. 12 people died including a French National police officer. 11 others were injured. The Islamist Terrorist group Al-Qaeda (Yemen) took responsibility. At issue, cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed which the publication featured shortly after.  Since then, the phrase "Je suis Charlie" (I am Charlie) has come to not only represent support for Hebdo but objection against censorship in any form.

"We have a natural right to make use of our pens as of our tongue, at our peril, risk and hazard." (Voltaire, French writer/philosopher)

            Censorship is a choice. You decide whether to submit to it or not. Allowing an institution or person(s) to dictate what you proclaim, or not, grants control, usually through fear of reprisal in one form or another. Depending on the situation, one cannot always stop censorship, but not all censorship is negative or a bad thing. We really all should edit our work. Some things are just not relevant or even inappropriate to the project at hand. Redacting prepares each piece for presentation through revision and is a form of self-censorship, not to mention proper etiquette. There are rules when dealing with socially acceptable/unacceptable behaviour. This correcting yourself is a valid and often required process. We say too much or we make mistakes. We include things that just don't fit with our thesis. We have to remove these incidents to properly express what we are trying to convey in a more congruent and relevant style. When dealing with a public forum, we should be required to have a cohesive and well thought out production, regardless of how we had to edit, in fact censor, the material.  It is one thing to censor yourself, but an entirely different thing when you are censored. Either way, one should have the right to speak their truth without fear of compromise or even death.

"Adam was but human—this explains it all. He did not want the apple for the apple's sake, he wanted it only because it was forbidden. The mistake was in not forbidding the serpent; then he would have eaten the serpent."(Mark Twain, American writer)



Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Little Doses

 "Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night. "

            I never imagined, when I was growing up, the challenges that owning a pet would bring. The hill on my parents' property is dense with the skeletal remains of many dogs and cats and rodents. From Nugget, a brown poodle that came with us from Toronto to Strathroy, to Sydney, a domesticated rat I had to put down myself, there is always a cost when you love something. We tell ourselves that investing emotionally in such creatures is different than investing emotionally in people, but this is just not the case. It can be more difficult to lose a pet than some of the people in our lives. We place more time and care with Fluffy than we do with our Aunt Mabel. The death of a constant companion may not always linger as when we lose a spouse or family member, but the sting is as real as any hurt that may come from the death of a loved one. Pets are loved ones. In many cases they are just as important, if not more so, to our daily lives than the strongest blood tie. For many, they are family and friend. The demise of each animal is a constant reminder of the price we all pay for living.
            Life teaches us what we need to know. Our exposure to the animal kingdom is reflective. Their passing can instruct us about death and sickness and saying goodbye. When Sydney began to show signs of illness, I was prepared for her to die. Having had many small and larger rodents over the years, I already knew that a short life expectancy came with each one when I bought it. I contacted the veterinarian when she began to sport irregular lumps around her genitalia. They grew quickly and became a greater concern. It was not my wish to see her suffer. The vet made it perfectly clear that they would only grow back if removed and this common occurrence was connected to inbreeding and the ovaries. There was nothing I could do to help her besides putting her down. I was assured that she could live with this invader for awhile and I would know when it was time to put her out of any misery. She adapted and for almost 6 months hobbled about the cage, relatively unaffected by the growths. I was petting her when the largest one broke open. She began to bleed out all over her cage. With no time to take her to a doctor, I was forced to drown her in the toilet, sparing her an agonizing death. I still regret not taking her in to the vet earlier. Not so much for her, rather, for me. It was an awful, horrible thing I had to do to something I loved as much as anything else. I still manifest great guilt over what happened. I question whether I did the right thing.  
            The rat that survived the death of Sydney remained in the cage. Emily was always a friendly and loving critter. I was shocked but not surprised when the same formations found themselves growing on yet another rat. I prayed I would not have to repeat the same process that occurred with Sydney the year before. I convinced myself that I should leave her be and let nature take its course. Anything short of the same injury would find me watching and waiting for her to die. She lasted quite happily for 4 months. The morning of her death found her reaching for me, begging me to place her in the upper cave she treasured so dearly. I could see my little friend in this tortured soul. I am convinced that if she had the choice to make, she would have decided to stay. I was right letting her die naturally. She pretty much told me what she wanted and so I picked her up and placed her within. She slipped away rather quickly after that and I am haunted once again. Did I do the right thing by letting her simply live her life or should I have placed her out of harm's way? Is letting something die naturally kindness or torture? One is damned if you do and damned if  you don't. There is no winning when it comes to issues of life and death. Nothing is ever for certain but the finish line.  

"Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

            Watching someone die from AIDS is somewhat like the experience of cancer. Eventually, the disease eats away at the very being, physically, spiritually and psychologically. In fact, the term "wasting syndrome" pretty much defines what happens to a person at the end stage of these diseases. When my Aunt Joyce died from lung cancer, my Father didn't even recognize her laying helpless and lingering in her hospital bed. The weight lifted with her passing was little; she had been eaten alive from the inside out. Still, she did managed to rage against the dying of her light. She was cognitive almost right to the end. She suffered greatly. My maternal grandfather was bedridden for almost a year after the stroke. He was never the same again. He just laid there rotting, unaware of most of the world around him. Any sense of cognition was met with pain and discomfort and fear. You could see it in his eyes whenever he used them to reach out. Once a healthy and formidable man, he faded away slowly. He was but a shell on the day he died. This did not quicken the process. It was the end of him but my grandmother refused to listen. She called  him back with every step he took towards peace. Eventually, morphine was used to help in the transition. He passed away having melted away. I am unsure how aware he was of his suffering.
            Long before chemical cocktails and protozoa inhibitors, death from HIV infection was a nasty way to go. By the time I was 30, I had at least 25 experiences watching friends die from this devastating virus. Mercifully, science and medicine have turned a once terminal infection into a chronic and manageable diagnosis. This is reliant, of course, on the ability to pay for the drugs. A wealthy gay lawyer from San Francisco lives a long and healthy life while a child in Africa dies from the same medical situation. Long gone are the days of AZT and AIDS dementia. You rarely, if ever, hear of a new death at the hands of this monster. The AIDS quilt seems to have peaked in size and formation. Still, I can't help but hear the voices of all those who have gone before. Old friends linger in my mind, dancing with death until it takes you for good. I cannot imagine a more horrible way to exit this world.
            My late friend Robert was one of the first men in London, Ontario to die from AIDS. He was infected after his divorce and continued to parent his two teenage boys despite the heavy stigma such a diagnosis brought. He worked for a large brewery, as the Vice-President of Sales and Distribution. He was well off, successful and careless. AIDS did not discriminate, then or now. In the 1980s, HIV made one not only a social pariah but it was a surefire death sentence. Within the first year, Bob went from an attractive and fit specimen to a withered and weak morsel of who he once was. It only took a few more months and he was sentenced to a hospice bed, several stomach tubes dangling like plastic ivy from his guts. In a little over a year, he aged from 40 to looking 70. He was gray, and spotted, and you could see his veins through his translucent skin. Melanoma the size of quarters covered his torso and head. He almost looked like a concentration camp survivor on the day of liberation.
            Despite the rapid onslaught brought on by the virus, Robert lingered for much more time than he had been allotted. We all gathered when the doctor said it would be soon. My friend Maurice and I sat watching his family as they begged for more time and some mercy. On the way out of the hospital, Maurice surprised me with his cavalier statement. "They should put a pillow over his head and just put him out of his misery," flowed from his cakehole like a broken sewer pipe would. The funeral was small, private and seemed to carry great shame for his family. It was a different time, I suppose. A year later, I sat looking at Maurice's charred remains in a hospital bed not unlike Robert's. Falling asleep while smoking on a plastic-covered couch is never a good idea. For months, we all waited for him to wake up. No one talked about taking him off life support until his nose fell off. At least, unlike our friend Robert, he wasn't conscious through his destruction. He died surrounded by family and friends as they turned off the machines and he slipped away from us. It was mercy and I was grateful he did not have to suffer, not to any visible degree.

"Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night."

            In February of 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada overturned a law which made it illegal to help a person end their life. It was a unanimous ruling. Canada's highest legal authority concluded that such "People with grievous and irremediable medical conditions should have the right to ask a doctor to help them die." The 9-0 judgement amended the law allowing doctors to assist in "specific situations." While some fear the ruling will open season on assisted suicide, the finding applies only to those "competent adults with enduring, intolerable suffering who clearly consent to ending their lives." This decision was like a slap in the face to the conservative government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a sharp advocate of the right to life. The federal and all provincial parties have 12 months to draft legislation in response to the court's decision.
            The court, in fact, declared that "desperately suffering patients have a constitutional right to doctor-assisted suicide." They noted that such restrictions "had the effect of forcing some individuals to take their own lives prematurely, for fear that they would be incapable of doing so [later]." They concluded that the Canadian "Criminal Code’s absolute ban on assisted suicide goes too far." The Code may attempt to protect the "vulnerable" from abuse but it also interferes with people "making core decisions about how they live and die, and so breaches three of the most basic rights: to life, liberty and security of the person, all enshrined in Sec. 7 of the Charter, and is not justified in a free democratic society." The judges found that the previous "prohibition on physician assisted dying" conflicted "with the principles of fundamental justice.''

"Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. "

            I think that life uses softer pain to teach us fortitude for greater pain. The smaller and lesser our toil, the more we are able to deal with a later occurrence, when things might well go from bad to worse.  I firmly believe that these experiences we have throughout our lives hold a dual purpose. They not only build us stronger but they instruct us. They teach us and condition us so that we might be able to handle the most extreme events that everyone, at one time or another, is fated to know. The relationships that we have with our pets and other animals may not always overwhelm us with grief but they prepare us, in little doses, for experiences far more grave in their nature. These small interactions with doom train us, in a sense, to understand and be aware. This, of course, demands one pay attention. The little things that happen accumulate and can help us to be wise.
            I've watched an awful lot of animals die in my day. I have seen just as many mortal men and women fall to sleep forever. Some raged against their dying while others seemed to embrace a peace no one living can possibly know. I am not convinced that this constant exposure to death is only meant for me, although I would argue that only a few really pay attention. Death is my constant unwanted companion so I have spent much time pondering euthanasia and the right to die. With an aging father, it is only natural to consider what just might come. It is through my life experiences with death that I am sure of my position. The road has shown me much to think about. I am not a praying man but I ask that the same mercy I have given is one day given to my father and eventually to me. I am thankful that the ability to make these harsh decisions is no longer a criminal offence in Canada. I never understood how we can put our pets out of their misery but we cannot grant this same mercy to ourselves. Personally, I would prefer nature do the deed but at least another option exists now.

"And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light."
(Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, Dylan Thomas c. 1951)





Tuesday, December 1, 2015


            It was well into October before the headstone went up. When the men in the distance finally left, I pulled alongside the far end of the cemetery. Empty fields surrounded me on every other side. I got out of my car and trudged through the wet lands. Suddenly, I was confronted. There was no denying it now. Here he was forever, just a marker, a monument to what will never be. I pulled a garbage bag out of my pocket and I cleared away rotten flowers and a few damaged cards. I remember touching it for the very first time. I remember in that moment remembering. I was overwhelmed and sobbed on the stone. I moved away from it, also the first time of many. Always the same it seems. Pay homage, then walk over to the garbage can and dump the remnants in their hiding place. To the car, unlock the car, get inside like every time. The drive away is always the same. This is really all that one can do for them now.
            There are so many more headstones in this place these days. Row after row seem to go on without end in all directions. It is the same as it was before but with so many more decorations. There is even a crematorium wall just south of where he rests.  I come and go less often. It's not as powerful as it was before. I try, at least, for a monthly visit, weather permitting. I am drawn by respect and memory rather than any obligation or sense of  responsibility. I go because I want to. The headstone has found a few more recent additions to its area. Family tends to bury with family. All the spots and locations that were empty the day he arrived are blended with the rest of the rocks and flowers and kind words carved in stone. I have gone on with my life. The day I first said goodbye here and the day his marker met the ground, both were catalysts for me. The first, a welcome to abandon. The next, an invitation to start over.

"The impossible is possible
But your fear is so responsible
For keeping you down
Your unreachable is reachable
But you'll never grab the wonderful
With your feet on the ground
If you fall on your face don't just leave it to fate
No such thing as too late
It's not too late"

             I felt like the Winter Warlock from the Christmas special Santa Claus is Coming to Town. I almost started singing "Put One Foot in Front of the Other." This day would be a breakthrough for me, a point in time separating what had been and what was to come. In a sense, I had started over long before the moment the stone went up. I had carried on, abandoning my need to self-flagellate. I had given up on leaving and began to focus on making the best of staying. I had come out to everyone, confirming for his parents (and mine) the truth of the matter. I started working again. I even managed to explore more social settings, engaging in random contact with the human race. I suppose there was no real benchmark telling me the when and the how and the why. Initially, each step was so hard to take that I never noticed the motion forward.  Each moment was a constant reminder for me of the cruelty in life and the merciless nature of nature. God had taken centre stage, although not necessarily for the better. When you blame something Divine for your circumstance, it is hard to bow down and grant worship to it. I had already set out on a different course, I just didn't know it. Driving away from that headstone for the very first time simply confirmed in my mind that it was time to move on. Just like the Warlock (call him Winter), I had peered through that silly opening, then pushed it some and started walking out the door (without the penguin).
            Moving on did not negate the experience, it resonated.  To this day, I measure through the lessons I learned from this place in time. They have become so much a part of me, ingrained into my being and the course that I took. The changes did not happen overnight, they never do. The notion to start over may bring a new day, but the application and momentum only find purpose if you engage them. I used to imagine that the day his stone appeared was the pinnacle for me. A time and a place I could touch and remember. It once signified a separation of the life I once knew and the life I now live. I realize, in hindsight, that it merely marks where he is, not where I am. Somewhere in the puzzle that is my past, I made a decision and followed through on it. I trusted the God I didn't even know yet. I decided that I had to get on with living, for me, and I kept right on going. I opened my eyes and I tried.

"You only fail if you never try
You'll never live trying not to die
I'm telling you now
Don't ever stop, give all you've got
Don't hesitate to take a shot
It all comes around
If you fall on your face don't just leave it to fate
No such thing as too late
It's not too late"
            London, Ontario, Canada is a pretty city located on the southern half of the 401 corridor that runs from Detroit (Windsor, Ontario) to Montreal, Quebec. I lived there with my first partner almost the entire time we were together. I lived there for a year with my current partner. I know the streets and most shops like the back of my hand. I worked in the downtown core. I studied at Fanshawe College to the east and at the University of Western Ontario to the north. With approximately 450,000 citizens, one would imagine running into your past would hold a slim chance to almost none. Time may have left the basic blueprint of this location much the same, but the faces are constantly changing. It is a growing city. It is places like this that you just don't expect to run into someone you used to know. Life can be rewarding yet sometimes cruel in this way. It is a good thing that I always expect the unexpected. She, most certainly, was that.
            I knew it was her right away and in spite of the distance between us, I was sure she knew it was me. I considered walking by her as she passed my way. Unfortunately, luck was not with me on this day and she stopped, abruptly, blocking my path. "Kelly?" she asked. Obviously, she didn't need to. The last time I saw her was at the funeral. Twenty years and it still was not long enough. She was one of my faithful friends who shunned me because I had lied about my sexuality. She was also one of my onetime friends who then shunned me for being a homosexual. I always wished she had made up her mind, just to clarify why I don't like her so much. So I stood there making polite conversation with a woman who had disposed of me without even consulting me. It was like she had forgotten. It was like she didn't even stop to think of what she had done. She even suggested getting together, which was very nice of her indeed. I would have rather eaten glass. I know it seems petty but I just couldn't stand there and wish it all away. When I told her I didn't live in the area, she actually seemed disappointed. How lovely for her. It seemed unfair to have to stand and pretend out of kindness. I would have rather run away screaming. Her  inquiry turned to invasion when she told me, "We all thought you were dead. How did you manage to get through all that and survive?" As I began to walk away, I replied, "I had to start over."

"There's so much, so much left to gain
There's so much, so much left to lose
You'll never know until you make a move"

             Sometimes you have to leave the past behind you to get over it. This doesn't mean you forget it, you just have to move beyond it. What was is for a reason. The only way to move forward is to leave it all behind. It is not as difficult as it seems. Starting over is about the freedom to begin again. It's not about reinvention. It's not about denial. It's about taking the opportunity to start fresh, to move past what was and create what is. You don't have to forget the past, you just have to forgive it. Let it go. What was already is and what will be will be. The truth is you can start over any day you wish, any time you choose. Each day brings a new beginning. It's never too late. 

 "If you fall on your face
Don't just leave it to fate
No such thing as too late
It's not too late to
Start over"
(Start Over, The Afters 2011)