Silence is complicity

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When I was in grade 12 and taking social studies, I noted that it was the boys in the classroom who lit up like Christmas trees when discussing World Wars 1&2. I listened intently, interested in their eighteen year old perceptions. One day after turning in a paper, the teacher approached me as I was leaving the classroom. “You should speak up, more”, she said. “Give these boys a run for their money”. But I couldn’t. I was shy, and certain that they would discount my views and simply refute anything I might have to say. I remained a silent and passive listener and observer.

There was one boy who did capture my attention, however. We had been discussing death. ” We cannot say with any certainty that we will die, ” he said. “We can only assume we will all die based on the fact that everyone who has gone before us, has died.”

Finally…… someone who could think in philosophical and abstract terms. I sat up straighter in my seat.

And then there was this. ” Let’s talk about war crimes and criminals,” the teacher said one day.

Whhaat? War criminals? War crimes? Whatever did she mean by that? She of course was referring to The Geneva Convention comprised of four treaties and various protocols establishing the standards of international law for the humanitarian treatment of war, and the types of weapons allowed under it’s terms.

I had never heard of the Geneva Convention until that moment. My mind whirled. I wanted to push myself away from my desk, stand up, and declare what to me was so glaringly obvious. War by it’s very nature was a crime against humanity. The taking of human life went against everything we were taught from the cradle to the grave. Thou shall not kill. The taking of any human life is an act of contempt, a blatant disregard for the sanctity of human life, and a sickening atrocity. To draw up a convention outlining how to mitigate the horror of killing and destroying life seemed like a complete irony and paradox.

I said nothing. I had only recently learned that psychiatric hospitals had once performed lobotomies on psychiatric patients without their consent, and I was still reeling from that epiphany. I needed time to try and contextualize these things. The world was not only a dangerous place, but the things that human beings did to one another were unfathomable and unspeakable What kind of twisted minds dreamed up things like war and lobotomies, anyway? And how did this kind of insanity ever find social sanction?

Once I had a crush on a beautiful boy who had a gravelly voice, and a mind that was sharper than the sabers of war. He insisted that in any given society, there is only a tiny segment of the population that can critically think, and whose political views are not shaped or informed by the propaganda disseminated by mass media. The greater portion of the population, he said, is comprised of people who are largely uneducated, and who have limited understanding of their political system and how it really works, as well as their country’s foreign policies. He was convinced that this larger and generally uneducated segment of the population was influenced by propaganda, easily manipulated, and unlikely to ever challenge domestic or foreign policy. He went a step further in saying that it was therefore incumbent upon the smaller segment of the population to engage itself in political activism in order to disseminate truth.

Here in Canada and the US, we live in what can be loosely termed a democracy. The fact is that our civil liberties have been slowly eroding over time to the point that we scarcely notice, and worse, don’t seem to object. Civilian spying? We scarcely flinch. Endless gulf wars with no end in sight? Who the hell cares? Trillions of dollars being diverted for war. Oh well. Our torturing of political prisoners? Where’s the evidence?

The evidence dear friends has been withheld from the public for fear of a hue and outcry. But I say, no fear of that. People are too bogged down in debt, and far too distracted with cell phones, tv shows, and navel gazing to look up long enough to even take notice. What doesn’t directly impact our selfish and privileged lives, doesn’t matter a whit to most people.

When I was younger I always wondered how it was that the citizenry of Germany stood silently by, allowing the Nazis to round up their neighbors and fellow human beings, slap stars on their chests, and herd them into cattle cars, sending them off to concentration camps to die horrible deaths. How could that have happened? Why didn’t they mobilize and challenge the atrocity that was taking place right under their very noses.

Why indeed? We are no different than they are. At this very moment the US and Canada are involving themselves in active combat roles in both Iraq and Syria. Fighting ISIS, so we’re told. How noble, we tell ourselves so we can sleep peacefully at night. Meanwhile thousands of the innocent are displaced, their homes bombed, and women and children as well as old folks maimed and killed for reasons they cannot fathom. How are we any different than those good German citizens?

Our involvement in war is framed by the media as noble, after all we are fighting terrorists, are we not? We are liberating women subjugated by patriarchy. Really? That’s laughable considering that statistics show that one third of US female armed forces members are either raped, or sexually assaulted by their male- counterparts and fellow servicemen.

Karl Marx used the term cultural hegemony to describe the domination of a culturally diverse society by the ruling class , (in other words, current government administration) who in essence manipulate the culture of that particular society. We presently live in a society that can loosely be termed democratic, but is hegemonic in it’s construct. Our government which is backed by an elite strata of society, ie, banks, mass media, war munitions factories, oil tycoons, and the very rich, manipulate and shape our beliefs, perceptions, values, and mores. It is both insidious in nature, as well as overt. Mass media is owned by a handful of corporations world-wide. They shape and frame the news from a particular agenda, and often through a narrow lens. Mass media’s job is to reflect the government’s domestic and foreign policies so that it’s agenda and view-point is accepted as true and accurate by its citizenry. We buy into dominant ideology with very little forethought, and it thus becomes the status quo. We accept the often unacceptable without question, and it is viewed by us as natural, inevitable, perpetual, and even beneficial, rather than artificial and harmful. We have become hypnotized lemmings on our walk to the abyss. Meanwhile our governments merely pay lip service to climate change while the polar ice caps continue melting at an alarming rate, and we continue losing hundreds of species a day due to environmental toxins and global warming. As melting continues, the carbon dioxide currently trapped under the arctic ice will be released and cause an unprecedented global disaster. Our Canadian government has muzzled our scientists. Peak oil has already been reached, and in our quest to extract what little remains in the earth, we are fracking, contaminating water supplies, and possibly contributing to earthquakes. We are pushing for the expansionn and building of pipelines when we should be investing our dollars in sustainable alternative energy sources. We are poisoning our earth with chemicals, injecting antibiotics and hormones into the animals we slaughter and then consume, and purchasing and ingesting Montsanto’s, GMO’s. We allow pharmaceutical companies to take out patents on life saving medications (ie, flu, AIDS medications) that prevent other countries such as India from mass producing them cheaply and distributing them to third world countries. As a result, those who can’t afford the patented medications die needlessly. The poor. The disenfranchised.

If all of this isn’t enough to evoke our ire and bring us to our feet in righteous indignation, I fear nothing will. We’ve become a nation of obedient sheep.

If we really are truly a democracy, why isn’t a decision as important as going to war placed in the public realm, and a referendum held? The government is supposedly representative of it’s people. How many of us if polled, would actually give our government the green light to go ahead and kill in our name? How many of us if we knew the sordid truth, would allow this to continue? The killing of thousands upon thousands of innocent civilians, the humiliation and torture of political prisoners, the pressing of an impersonal button thousands of miles away, subsequently sending unarmed drones to the middle east to drop bombs on targets that often are miscalculated, and subsequently result in the death of thousands of innocents. They are doing this in our name, as citizens of this country. Every individual killed, makes us party to murder. Sanctioned murder.

Each one of us has innocent blood on our hands. Unless we oppose it, we condone it.

As I mentioned earlier, I am turning sixty next month. With maturity and age, hopefully has come wisdom and a determination to leave this world a better place when I walk on. I hope I have learned to be kinder, softer, and gentler. As looks fade, and the open grave begins to beckon with its open maw, I am putting away those childish and superficial things that were nothing more than fool’s gold. Life is distilling me down into who and what I really am, and my true character is being made manifest.

Silence is complicity, and therefore I cannot remain silent.

We need to stop glorifying war. We need to stand for something, or we stand for nothing at all.

The following is one of the most poignant and compelling videos I have ever seen, and if this returning Iraq war veteran doesn’t shake up and disturb your world, I am afraid nothing will.

Namaste.

Double click on the Youtube button below to watch and listen, so my embedded music doesn’t interfere.

Upon turning sixty….

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Sometimes I think writing a blog is nothing more than the self-absorbed narcissistic ramblings of a socially awkward individual, which then inhibits me, and brings me to a screeching halt. Writing a blog is somewhat akin to a verbal form of the “selfie”, which after some thought, gives me a nasty case of the heebie-jeebies. But when I remember that no one actually reads my blogs, it allows me to dance like nobody’s watching….. so to speak. So here go I.

I turn sixty in less than a month. Do you hear that? I’m shouting it out here in cyber space in an attempt to embrace it.

Sixty…….. Jesus, how did that happen, and so fast?

Sixty is officially old. Over the hill. No matter which way you slice or dice it, it is inescapably the stuff of serious contemplation. This is the age when women become invisible. I have a friend who is seven years my junior, and she claims that men haven’t given her more than a cursory passing glance in years, and to think that at one time she was serious fodder for many a young man’s nocturnal fantasies.

I’m pretty sure my “relationship” years are well behind me, so I don’t really care if I become invisible to “los hombres”. The other night I dreamt I was getting married to a man I barely knew, and I was in full panic mode. The thought of being tethered to another human being at this stage in my life makes me feel like someone is syphoning all the air out of my lungs. I awoke in a cold sweat. “Praise be to God” I intoned to Gus the cat, after realizing it was only a dream.

He blinked twice and then drifted back into the blissful slumber I had just hi-jacked.

Here’s the thing. I’m a dyed in the wool romantic. I actually love the idea of love. Two soul mates falling in love and growing old together. What can be more beautiful than that? As a concept it’s flawless and beautiful. In reality, it’s messy and noisy, and a steep climb that leads not to a beautiful summit as one might imagine, but rather to a low lying valley prone to floods, and the occasional earth quake. It’s a grenade laden realm, people.

Amor for me is much like flying a kite. I have always been enamored with the idea of launching a kite, and having it remain aloft, floating lazily above the tree-line and soaring amongst the clouds and God’s sweet angels. However in reality, whenever I’ve actually attempted to fly one of those bad boys, it has lulled me into a sense of fleeting joy by catching an updraft and briefly surfing on the wind before losing its momentum and nose diving into the ground.

Totally anti-climatic, and an apt metaphor for describing most of my relationships.

In my own defense, I was raised on bed-time stories that always ended with “And They Lived Happily Ever After”. I grew up with the notion that love conquered all, and that no effort at all was required to keep the love fires stoked and burning merrily on the hearth. Imagine my sense of betrayal when I learnt that Happily Ever Afters were nothing more than today’s urban legends, and more accurately, outright big fat fibs.

It was either intensive therapy, or learning to sooth my thwarted and romantic soul by living vicariously through movies, and more recently, the novels I’ve been writing. In writing ” Beneath a Judas Moon” I was able to channel the protagonist, “Anya”. Through her, I loved Samuel, an inadvertent and fictional creation of my ideal “soul mate”. After completing the book, the uneasy notion that he was out there somewhere, waiting and looking for me, stayed with me. I found myself searching for him in a sea of anonymous faces.

In moments of reverie, I am forever tossing hay bales with Samuel in the moonlight and taking turns driving the tractor. I am stealing out of bed in the dead of the night and climbing onto his lap in order to star gaze. I am dancing with him to the Troggs, barefoot on the lawn, twirling in the spot-light cast from the truck’s head-lights, and wearing the blue summer dress he bought for me at Christmas. I am riding horses with him in the valley of Dry Island Buffalo Jump, while he regales me with childhood stories about growing up as a Hutterite on the Burnt Grass Colony in Kneehill County.

So here’s something odd…… While I was writing this blog, I went to get a coffee and upon returning to my desk clicked into yahoo to check my mail. This is the first thing I saw.

“A devoted English couple died just 10 minutes apart after a 65-year romance that started in their teen years. In their final days, Harry and Mavis Stevenson had been living in St. Werburgh’s House Care Home in Derby because she had fallen ill and they could not stand being apart. The Stevensons’ family was not surprised when Mavis passed away on Nov. 3 at 89 but was shocked when her 88-year-old husband — who was in good health — shed a few tears and died by her side just minutes later, according to local media. “Their love lasted and they were devoted to each other. I can imagine them being together now, after their death, side by side,” the couple’s nephew Stephen Cresswell, 63, told the Derby Telegraph. Harry and Mavis met at the Asterdale social club before Harry joined the Royal Marines in 1943.

He stormed the beach at Normandy on D-Day to help liberate continental Europe from Hitler’s clutches and was shot in the hand while battling the Japanese in the Pacific theater, the local paper said. But perhaps the most significant pain came from being apart from Mavis, who was waiting for him back in the United Kingdom. Cresswell thinks his uncle’s service in World War II made their bond much deeper.
“Their romance and their love kept them together during those years. When there is absence, then the heart grows stronger,” Cresswell said. Harry and Mavis got married after he returned home, and they tried to minimize their time apart as much as possible — even after she got sick later in life. Cresswell said the nurses told Harry that she had died, then they walked out of the room, only to find him dead minutes later, the Daily Telegraph reported. They were, he said, “soulmates.”

So there you have it. As they say, there are no coincidences in life. Go figure.

The long way home..

benehaelohimAutumn folds her variegated cloak around me, and the wind sends forth spiraling leaves that float momentarily on the disturbed air before settling on a crooked path winding through the trees. Some of them have been uprooted by winter’s strong gales, or cleaved by lightening. Before toppling into the supporting arms of their comrades, where they now repose like dying martyrs, they heave a sigh.

I walk alone.

Bird sounds echo off the pond. A squirrel chatters, and an airplane drones in the distance. Leaves comprised of coral and gold, form a gay ribbon of celebration. Their scent of spice and dying flora is reminiscent of a lover’s musky skin.

Did you love before you died?

You rose up to heaven on hesitant wings, a broken song bird. I envy you. You located your tribe who were camped out on the escarpment of night, eagerly awaiting your arrival. You now gleam like a newly formed star, radiant with secrets the gods withhold.

I long to quench my thirst from a goblet of hemlock, but the time is not now. My earthly trajectory unfailingly falls short of the open arms of cherubim. I am bound for glory on leaden feet.

I dream of you. Waking tears the shroud of dreams, where I momentarily fly above the tree-line.

We are particles of the same star, you and I.

Existential angst is a constant companion.

I’ve been taking the long way home, but I know a short-cut.

A soldier’s heart. Rest in peace Jacob David George.

The following is an excerpt from a eulogy.

Jacob David George, born in 1982. Talented, patriotic, athletic, gifted, musical, Arkansas storyteller, son, older brother, colleague, friend, inspiration. He served three tours of duty in Afghanistan by the time he was 23 years old. He took action to free himself of the horrors that dogged him. He cycled thousands of miles in order to speak out about his experiences. He wrote songs and played his banjo. He threw back his medals at a NATO protest in Chicago. He was using every modality he could think of to try and heal himself, but he wasn’t able to hold down a job, or sustain an intimate relationship. Jacob helped to found Afghanistan Veterans Against the War, a co-branch of Iraq veterans against the war. He kept traveling, kept telling his story, and joining with other veterans who understood the true costs of war. He was trying to find his way back and help others to find their own paths to healing along the way., as the music embedded on my page will interfere with your viewing and listening. http://vimeo.com/66857895

Mooney’s Pond

I am fortunate enough to live in the country in an old century house with an orange cat named Gus, with a huge Maple in my front yard that has stood its ground through more than a century of hurricanes and blizzards. Across the street is a walking trail and pond, which is where I wander to meditate and remind myself that despite the current state of this planet, there is still indescribable beauty in the world. Here are some photos from my latest stroll.

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The empathy gene

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My mother once told me that when I was less than two years of age, I accidentally knocked over a child during play. I apparently helped the little person to their feet, dusted them off, and then apologized, saying ” Sorry, honey”. This amused my mother as I was much smaller than this child, and a year younger. I also had starting speaking in full sentences before the age of two.

It appears I was born with an extra dose of the empathy “gene” and therefore destined to bear witness to other people’s pain. As a child, whenever I witnessed another child being hurt or humiliated, I vicariously experienced their emotional discomfort. If they cried, I cried. This quirk followed me into early adulthood, and I remember once breaking down at a mall as a teen after witnessing an elderly lady sobbing on a bench. Someone had stopped to assist her, and despite not knowing what had happened to her , her vulnerability and helplessness got to me. I hadn’t yet learned how to erect walls of safety.

I loved the world that I experienced as a child. I loved our large yard and the swing set my father had cemented into the ground in order to stabilize it. I spent long hours swinging back and forth, convinced that if I swung high enough I could clear the roof of our house and keep on going. I loved the rhubarb patch, and the bright hollyhocks that grew against the side of the house. As far as I knew, only good existed in the world.

As I grew older, I began learning that this was not so. People did mean things, and for no apparent reason.

I once watched from the safety of our back-yard swing as an assortment of neighborhood children pinned down a small child and then proceeded to stuff her clothing with handfuls of dried grass, recently cast off by the lawn mower. They told her that they were making her into a scarecrow and despite her tearful protestations, continued with their mean task. They laughed, and I cringed. As I grew older and thought back on the event, I wished I had intervened. A part of me was certain that in choosing to do nothing, I became complicit in their act of cruelty.

When I was approximately eight or so, my mother, five siblings, and myself were waiting to catch a Greyhound bus to whatever remote location my father happened to be flying in that particular summer. It was a long wait in the bus depot, and we were past the point of boredom. We obediently sat on hard resin chairs, swinging our legs and watching the bustling activity around us.

A harried mother was also waiting to catch a bus to a destination known only to herself. She had a child with her, a child still young enough to be in diapers. The child was at the crawling stage, and being the age it was, had absolutely no intention of sitting still. Whenever it managed to wrest itself free from its mother, and begin crawling away to explore a new and interesting distraction, its mother angrily dragged it back to where she had been sitting. When the baby began squirming to get away, she began lashing viciously at its small legs with the strap of her hand-bag while we looked on in shock and horror. Back then, no one dared to interfere in another person’s parenting domain.

Sometimes cruelty came from people in positions of authority. There was a young boy named Lorne. He had followed me from kindergarten into each subsequent new grade, until we reached grade five. By today’s standards, it is unlikely he would have been considered a difficult child. Back then, everyone listened. Everyone conformed. No one challenged authority. Back then, there didn’t appear to be childhood obesity, allergies, autism, or children with severe learning difficulties. Back then, children appeared to rarely get sick, and I have no idea why that was.

Lorne was small in stature and despite having blonde hair, his skin was dusky even during winter months when the rest of our skin had grown sickly pale. I can’t remember specifically what it was that he would either do, or not do that seemed to set him apart from the other children in our class of thirty five students. By the time we had reached grade five, he had been ostracized by both the teaching faculty and student body at large. While the rest of us were skipping rope in the school yard or playing marbles in the dirt, Lorne played alone.

Apparently a behavioral infraction had occurred the day the teacher suddenly chose to move Lorne’s desk off to one side of the room, and away from the rest of ours. What must have already felt like outright rejection, surely must now have been amplified a thousand-fold.

Once his desk had been removed to an area that isolated him from the rest of the class, he sat friendless and alone.

He had developed a terrible hacking cough one winter. He couldn’t have been feeling very well on the particular day when Mr. Davis our teacher decided to engage the entire class in what only can only be described as an interrogation gone horribly wrong, an interrogation that swiftly turned into a vicious free for all.

Mr. Davis had initially set the tone by asking Lorne why he was always so difficult, why he would never comply with directions, and why he never had his home work completed when he arrived at class each morning. He then encouraged the class to join in his query, and the class enthusiastically began to taunt Lorne, until Lorne’s face crumpled, and he began keening like a small broken animal.
While Lorne cried , tears of my own rolled down my face. He couldn’t stop and neither could I. I also couldn’t stop the teacher, nor could I stop the other children from hurling their pencil sharp words with the sole intent of wounding. I wanted to flee, and most of all I wanted to erase the image of this tiny shattered boy, weeping at his desk.

I was at Somerset pool the following summer, and Lorne was there. He was happily splashing in the pool, his shoulder blades jutting out like sharp wings on his thin body. I was wading close beside him when a dark shadow suddenly encroached on our space. The shadow was cast by a large scowling woman with bleached and dry hair, dark roots showing at the crown. For some unfathomable reason, and a reason known only to herself, she seized Lorne by one thin arm, yanking him out of the pool, his bare feet scraping against the rough sides. When he stood trembling beside her bulk, she placed her face inches from his and began shrieking at him.

I suddenly knew what was wrong with Lorne.

I have lived before

stonehenge092008A harvest moon with its pale torchlight announces itself to the failing light, rising above the row of pines standing guard against the eastern skyline. A ragged cedar creeping close to the house claws at the window pane, while the wind sighs and the orange cat dreams.

I lie amidst a tangle of sheets, the old clock ticking out the minutes and hours. It’s now, it’s now, it’s now, rhymes the old clock, and with each arrival of a new moment in the corridor of time, the moment is swiftly relegated to the past, never to be experienced again.

I have lived before, of this I am certain.

I remember another lifetime from days gone by, the same way a tree that’s been stripped of its leaves and left barren in Autumn, recalls another season when summer lovingly wove frothy dresses of leafy green around each delicate branch.

The spaces between one heart beat and the next, and the momentary pauses between one breath and the one thereafter, are the in-between places where memories from another era exist.

When I close my eyes, I can hear bag-pipes wailing on the frontier of dreams. I can smell the pungent odor of peat fires burning bright against dark, muddy banks, dense smoke hanging heavily in the crisp fall air. I can visualize ancient trackways leading from the mountain ranges of the Mounth to the north sea, so close in proximity to Stonehenge that the mystical stones begin exerting an irresistible tug, filling me with an indescribable yearning for a life I no longer live.

You are a silhouette, a lone figure standing in a misty shadow-land. A long ago voice carries on the wind, whispering my name.

I hearken to the familiar sound.