Us vs Them

Perhaps you are like me. You heard about the horrific shooting in Las Vegas. 58 people killed. At least 500 injured. Perhaps, like me, you thought you must have been mistaken in the numbers.

As I read some preliminary reports – I don’t watch this kind of thing anymore, because I can’t control how I react to the images – there was a little voice in the back of my mind saying “There must have been a dozen shooters, because this sure as hell wasn’t some guy with an unregistered .22”.

I continued reading. As the terrible reports mounted, the selfless acts of others started to come in. Heroic acts by first responders. Ordinary people taking wounded to local hospitals. People and companies donating food, water, supplies, transportation and lodging.

Loved ones shielding others with their own bodies.

The very best – and the very worst – of people, shown in a few short minutes.

I braced myself for what was coming. I could imagine the “talking heads”, spouting unsubstantiated claim after unsubstantiated claim. “We don’t know what’s happening, but this might have been what happened.”

Once again, I was glad that we ditched cable a couple of years ago.

More details came out. The shots came from the 32nd floor of a local hotel. Police had broken into a room, only to find the shooter had killed himself, and … wait. What? One shooter? One shooter killed or wounded some 550 people? How?

A dozen or more rifles recovered on the scene. A crapload of ammunition.

Again, I was stunned. One person. One. One person, in the span of a few minutes, had irrevocably changed the lives of not just those unfortunate souls who were immediately affected with injury and death, but all those people’s loved ones. First responders and hospital staff. An entire city. An entire nation.

Me.

I admit it: I’ve become cynical, over the years. I hear things and think “Yeah. Right.” And I have become somewhat calloused at reports of violence. It seems that nearly every other month, there’s a horrific shooting.

Sad to say, I’m getting used to it.

That’s when I realized that I’d heard nothing about the shooter. And that’s when I was pretty sure he was white.

We, as humans, are so good at labeling people, and two of our favourite labels are “Us” and “Them”. I knew that if the “Them” was a bearded, brown-skinned person, I would have already heard about investigations into ties with ISIS, or whatever group was in the news at the time.

Likewise, if he was black, we would have heard about it. The person – with first, middle, and last names carefully announced – was thought to have grown up in the projects and had a hatred of (fill-in-the-blank).

We like labels because it helps us not to think about people. If we can label people as “Them”, we can move on. “Oh, of course it was a terrorist.” “Oh, of course it was a disgruntled black man.” We file it in our brains and move on.

But, it turns out, the shooter was one of the majority. Rich, white male. Retired accountant (Could anything be more ordinary?”). Loved by his family.

Us.

The shooter is us. How are we supposed to react to that? How am I supposed to file that away? And I really shouldn’t be so shocked, because aren’t most of these terrible shootings done by a North American?

I should be more shocked if it isn’t.

Thankfully, it turns out that the shooter had a girlfriend. She was in the Phillipines. Ah. Isn’t that a hotbed of terrorism? Oh, and didn’t some money change hands? Isn’t she, at the very least, darker than the majority? The cynical part of me thinks that I’ve seen her picture more than I’ve seen the shooter’s.

OK. File it away as terror related and move on.

I am now waiting for the inevitable “Well, in order to keep this from happening again, we are going to pass legislation to step up security for hotels. You see, the shooter used a hotel. So, logically, if we have better security in hotels, we will be safe and secure, once again.”

Until the next shooter uses an old warehouse. Then we’ll need to step up security in the warehouse sector.

It’s a bit like saying “Little Johnny likes to play with gasoline and matches. Unfortunately, he burned himself. From now on, Little Johnny is not allowed to play with gas and matches … UNLESS he keeps a fire extinguisher nearby.”

This is the kind of logical debate I imagine is coming.

The debate over gun control will start up again, although we know this is doomed from the start. The gun lobby will say “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” Which makes a sort of sense. Although, if the shooter had an unregistered .22, and not more than a dozen assault rifles, this would be a different story.

“If people don’t have access to guns, people wouldn’t be getting shot,” the other side will say. Which makes a sort of sense. Although, we have all sorts of ways of killing each other without guns.

And as we desperately try to restore our sense of safety and security, we will blissfully gloss over the issue that there is no “Them”.

It’s all “Us”. This might be the scariest thought of all.

There are about 7 billion of us here on planet earth. We are different. We have different religions. We have different beliefs. Our skins are different colours.

There is a lot that separates us, and my little voice crying out will not have any effect. I honestly don’t know what to do about that; however, if we don’t figure out how to highlight the things we have in common, instead of our differences, we are destined to hear of more horrific stories like the one in Las Vegas.

On Toyotas, Free Trade, and Uncle Vito

No one knows what the hell this graph means. Anyone who says they do is trying to sell you something.

Trade talks are in the news. NAFTA. Pipelines. Protectionist sentiments. “Make (fill in the blank with your country’s name) Great Again!”

My Uncle Vito* would have been in his glory.

Uncle Vito was a man who lived with a lot of fear, and, consequently, a lot of hate. He hated many things: Liberal governments, welfare, the metric system, French, and – and this should go without saying – Pierre Elliot Trudeau.

He also hated people. Not all people, of course. Just ones that, in general, had a skin tone that was … how shall I say … darker than his. Summer was his least favourite season, as it caused too many people to tan “too much”.

And when I say “in general”, I mean all people darker than he. An equal opportunity racist, if you will.

This attitude came out in all the usual sorts of ways. He would hold lengthy discourses and diatribes on the laziness of certain peoples. He would talk about how certain types of people would use the system. He would explode in a rage when he would talk of people “flaunting their religion” by wearing certain headgear.

It came out in sneakier ways, as well. One that caught me by surprise was his hatred of Toyota. Not a miniature green wise dude from Star Wars who talks like Grover. You know, the car manufacturer. He never talked about Nissan. Or Range Rover, for that matter. Just Toyota.

Maybe he got rear ended by one. He certainly talked as if he had been.

Uncle Vito would go on about how poorly made Toyotas were. How cheap they were. How they would leave you on the side of the road.

Now, before I got to be as wise as I am now, I used to like to push him on some of these things. “Isn’t the Toyota Corolla the most dependable vehicle on the planet?” I’d say, because I’d seen some information that seemed to support that position.

“Propaganda and lies,” he would snap. “A Pontiac Sunfire will last way longer.”

“So you’re saying that all Toyotas are no good? What about my neighbour who has a Toyota with over 300,000 KM on it without any major issues?”

“First off, say it right: 180,000 miles. Second, don’t get smart.”

I’ve been called a lot of things in my life. Scrawny is usually at the top. Smart isn’t.

Then he would continue on to his favourite story line of all time.

“Whenever I see someone driving a Toyota on the road,” he said, “I point it out and say ‘one Canadian has lost his job’.

And then he would pause. Presumably for a moment of silence to the Unemployed Canuck.

In the interests of some disclosure, the study of Economics is not my strong suit. It’s not even my strong shoes. When I was at university, I failed one test. One. The only one I had failed. Ever.

It was a first year economics class.

I was stunned. You see, I don’t fail tests. It’s not that I’m Wile E Coyote, Supergenius, or anything. It’s just that, at the time, I had a really good memory and was good at taking tests.

I remember getting the mark back: 49%.

I was stunned; however, I soon recovered, thinking that – obviously – the test had been marked incorrectly. I took it to my prof, suggesting the incorrect marking. He looked at it, nodded, stroked out the 49%, wrote out a new number, and handed it back: 48%.

What I’m trying to say is that the study of economics is not necessarily my thing. Supply and demand. Equilibriums. How the price of a cup of coffee at the local Starbucks is directly related to the cost of cleaning out hog barns in Wales. These are things that my mind just can’t seem to grasp.

So, being economically challenged, I foolishly said, “I don’t get it.”

“Toyotas are imported,” he said, as if talking to a child. Or an idiot. “So that money goes right into the emperor’s pocket. No Canadian had a hand in building it. No money is spent in Canada; therefore, one Canadian has lost his job.”

Again, I’m not an economist. Still, it seemed that there was something amiss with his equation, not the least being that I didn’t think the emperor of Japan was getting kickbacks from Toyota.

I pictured him as being a nice old man who maybe had tea and watched game shows. Like the Queen.

“Don’t they build Toyotas in Ontario?” I asked.

“No. They all come in from Japan. Duty free, I might add.”

Huh. I felt I was on more solid ground here, as I was certain that there wasn’t a government in existence, now or ever, that wouldn’t tax the crap out of anything coming into the country.

“And that’s why you only buy GM products?” I asked.

“That’s right,” he said.

“Aren’t those built in Detroit?”

“Some are built in Ontario,” he said. “Even so, the money stays here in Canada. They sell them here. So the dealership makes money. And they pay their employees. And those employees buy houses, food, and cable TV.”

“As opposed to the Toyota dealership right next to it, here in the city?” I asked.

“Exactly.”

By now, the logic of his words were winning me over. Either that, or my head was about to explode. My wife was not-too-subtly kicking my shins and sending me the shut-your-yap-and-we-can-still-get-home-in-time-to-see-Friends look.

“So the profits of sales of GM products stays in Canada? It’s not sent to the US?”

Uncle Vito paused. “Well, some does go to the US. But that’s OK. We still benefit because we trade with the US.”

I was about to say “As opposed to Japan? Don’t you own a Sony TV?” when my wife kicked me in the shins again.

Like I say, I don’t understand economics. Or global economies, for that matter, other than the reason I can buy 21 t-shirts at Walmart for $20 has something to do with the fact that there is someone overseas who is sewing those t-shirts for about 3 cents an hour.

Which, I think, would have been OK with Uncle Vito.

As I say, you shouldn’t take advice on economics from me. Especially the global economy. In my simplistic mind, I think that all of us humans are connected economically, these days, so if other people do well, that makes things better for all of us. Oh, and that companies will always send the work to wherever it can be done cheapest.

Always have and always will. And it ain’t about to change anytime soon. Or anytime ever.

Keep in mind, though, I only got 49% on my Econ 101 exam.

OK. OK. 48%

It’s too bad that Uncle Vito has passed on. He would have loved being around today. Especially with the internet. And with Toyotas still coming into the country, duty free, despite being built here.

*I changed names to protect the … uh … innocent. I don’t have any uncles with exotic names like Vito. As a descendant in a long line of European-type Mennonites marrying other European-type Mennonites, my uncles have names that tend to originate from two sources: the Bible and royalty. So they have names like John, Jake, Abe, William and George. Unfortunately, no Vitos. I did have a couple of Uncle Cornies, but I’m pretty sure their names were anomalies.

A Few Lessons More

I can’t believe it. Fifty days have passed by, and I have completed my quest: 50 days writing 500 words per day.

I started doing this for a few reasons. One is that I wanted a challenge. My physical health has not been good for a number of years, and I was starting to think that I would never be a productive member of society again.

Well, I may not be that productive, but I have managed to put down a few thoughts. This has felt pretty good. If I have been able to entertain you in the process, I consider it a job well done.

The other is that I intend to write in the new year. Not just a few hundred words a day. I’ve got a novel in mind. Two, actually.

One popped into my head one day. From nowhere, I had what I thought was a very exciting climax to a fantasy novel. I thought the scene was so good that I wanted to discover what the story was that led to that point.

I’ve been unraveling it, but it is more than I know how to do. At the moment. I’ve written a number of other (pretty good) scenes, but the scope of the story is expanding.

I need to put it on a shelf until I know a bit more.

The other idea is one that has kicked around in my head for a very long time. In fact, it has been there since I first heard the poem “Jack and Jill went up the hill”. At the time, I remember thinking why did they go up the hill in the first place? 

I think I need to find out, so that’s what’s up for me in 2017.

In the meantime, I’ll probably keep posting pretty regular on this blog. I like the quickness of it. The regularity. The habit. It stretches my mind just a bit each time.

I’m grateful for the small lessons I’ve learned, as I’ve written to a deadline for the last 50 days. Granted, the deadline was flexible – anytime before bed – but it was a deadline nonetheless.

I was thinking of a few other lessons that these last fifty days have taught me. Here are a few more.

Write It Fast. I used to equate speed with poor quality. As if I could only put down words that were difficult to write. I no longer believe this to be true. In fact, some of my best work has happened when I had no time, no energy, and could barely stay awake.

Don’t Try To Please People Too Much. This is a tough one, for me. I’m a people pleaser. I would wonder what if my Mom / pastor / friend from the third grade / Uncle Albert would read this? Would she / he be upset? What if I curse a bit? Will I be shunned?

I’d actually look forward to an old fashioned shunning. It sounds so … ominous.

I am slowly getting over this, but it’s hard. My ways of thinking have had 50 years to lay down very powerful neural pathways. I’ve been doing my best to create new ones.

Write Alot. A couple of years ago, I wrote in a contest called the National Novel Writing Month, an annual contest to complete a 50,000 word manuscript in the month of November.

I discovered that I could write a lot in a short period of time; however, I didn’t write consistently, and I never created a habit of writing. This time around, I wrote less per day, but I wrote every day.

I trust that I have created a new habit. Which is good. I am woefully lacking in the willpower department. A habit wouldn’t require much willpower.

Find My Voice. All the writing manuals talk about finding your own voice. I’m not sure if I’ve gotten there, yet. I used to think that I was destined to write funny stuff. I’ve always gravitated towards the funny.

When I look back at my writing, though, I find that I was a lot more serious than I expected. With maybe a bit of humour to lighten things up.

I will need to continue writing to find out what my voice really is.

I have come to the conclusion, though, that I do have a voice. That what I say and think matters. This isn’t because I’m some genius. Or gifted. Or special. It’s just that, in all of history, there’s never been another me.

I have a completely unique outlook on life. As do you. I’m the only me around. My choice to communicate that me is through telling stories.

We all choose to embrace that inner person or not. In the past, I’ve not felt that my inner person is of any consequence. That I’m somehow not worthy of all the wonderful things I’ve experienced in life: love, family, the beauty of the South Saskatchewan.

I’ve changed my mind. A little bit, at least. I’m trying hard to cut myself some slack, like I would for anyone else but me. I think doing this challenge has helped me do that.

Just a little.

A work in progress, if you will.

This has been the start of a new journey, for me. In some ways, a small toehold for me to start my crawl from the abyss. To let my eyes adjust to the darkness. To climb towards daylight.

I’m excited about my journey, and I thank you for being around for the start of it.

5 Lessons I’ve Learned From Writing

I’m coming to the end of my commitment of writing 50 consecutive blog posts for 500 words or more. I’m not sure if I’m happy or sad about that.

I would say, though, that I have learned a few lessons about writing. And maybe life.

Get Started. I have a number of bad habits. One is procrastination. The other is putting things off. I decided that I would just get going and let things happen as they will.

I tried not to censor myself, meaning that I wouldn’t rewrite or try for anything close to perfection. I wanted to leave things a little raw, This was effective, and it made it easier to just sit down and do it.

I also found that there was power in just getting started. Not that I’d advise it, but if you look back, you will see that there were times when I had nothing. I wrote anyway.

I found that I would find inspiration just by being in motion. So, I write and then (sometimes) become inspired. It seems like the old cart and horse thing, but it really works.

Stick To It. Malcolm Gladwell popularized the saying that mastery takes 10,000 hours of preparation and work. If so, I have a very long way to go. Still, the only way to get better at writing – or anything – is to do it. Doing it badly is the price to pay for doing it better.

Get started and stick with it. I have written over 25,000 words in the last 50ish days. This is 25,000 more than I would have written by doing nothing or stopping after the first day.

Have Fun. If writing isn’t your thing, you might be thinking that this has been a difficult thing for me. And you would be partly right. There were certainly days when I just wanted to fall into bed.

I’d write anyway. And, once I started, I had a good time doing it. Nearly every time.

I figure that if I’m not having fun doing it, I should probably go back to watching Gunsmoke reruns on Netflix.

Get Over Your Fear Of Rejection. Uh oh. This is a tough one, for me. In the first place, I’m a people pleaser, so I don’t like to let people down. Secondly, I have a thin skin and fragile ego. Third, I sometimes think that I’m smart, and I don’t want to write and appear dumb.

All fears that have been unfounded.

Instead of ripping into my occasional really bad writing, you have all been very supportive of me. Don’t think I didn’t notice.

I wonder if, as a people, we worry too much about what other people will think of us when, in reality, they aren’t really thinking of us at all.

Make It Easy To Read. Since this is online, one way to do this is to use short sentences, short words, and lots of white space.

When I started, I wrote like I usually do, with lots of words in a paragraph. Just looking at it is a little daunting. A sea of text on an ocean of white. Now I try to keep paragraphs to a couple of sentences. Short sentences.

Even fragments.

There are a few other things I’ve learned, but I’ll save them for tomorrow.

Ready, Fire, Aim

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them”.
Henry David Thoreau

It’s rare for me to draw a blank. I can usually think on my feet. Some say I have a  gift for story.

Other’s say I’m full of it. Story, I assume is what they mean.

Tonight, though, it feels like I’ve got nothing. Nada. Zip.

I suppose I could just keep on writing about nothing. Hey, it worked out OK for Jerry Seinfeld. “It’s a show about nothing,” says George Costanza.

“Why would anyone watch it?”

“Because it’s on television.”

“Not yet it isn’t.”

Now it feels like I’m just putting down anything to get started. Almost like I’m feeling that if I can just get enough words out, something good will happen.

I’m not sure. Let’s just say that I’m not holding my breath.

Still, good things can happen when you just say what the heck, let’s do it. For example, JFK. Kennedy decided that America would put a man on the moon before 1970. Depending on who you believe, American astronauts walked on the moon in 1969.

Either that or they walked on the surface of a secret sound stage in LA. Either way, it was pretty cool.

I wish I had a bit more go-with-the-flow, but I prefer Ready-Aim-Fire. The problem is, though, that I usually stop at Aim. I get ready. Then I aim. And aim. And aim.

And never really get around to the firing part.

With this blog post series, I’ve been trying to get over myself. I’ve been trying to just put the work in, post it, and see what happens. So far, I haven’t died. This is progress, because some of this stuff has been – let’s be honest with each other – less than ideal.

I’ve been trying out the Ready-Fire-Aim approach.

This is a bit like Wilbur and Orville Wright. The Wright brothers were not aircraft people. Or engineers. They were, in fact, bicycle and small engine mechanics. While other companies worked on developing more powerful engines, the Wrights used what they already knew.

Bicycles were unstable, and so were airplanes. The key to the bicycle was in controlling the balance. They applied what they knew to airplanes. Their system of controls of fixed wing aircraft are basically in use today.

But they started out with no skills or expertise in the aircraft field. They started anyway.

I find myself admiring people who just get started. Don’t get me wrong. I think there is a place for research and deliberation. It’s just that I have a tendency to remain there.

I need to get used to the firing part of the equation.

I saw a show on military snipers. When they are getting ready for a competition, they fire a number of test shots. They have a spotter. The spotter says “You’re about 50cms left.”

The shooter adjust the sights and fires again. And again until the bullets fire into the target. If they simply spent all their time getting ready and aiming, they would never hit the target.

Or anything, really.

My dad always said that a ship in motion is easier to maneuver than one that is sitting still.  I think this is good advice for me, so I plan to take a shot. Even if I don’t quite know how to get started.

I can always adjust my aim later.

Strumming My Pain On A Regular Basis

I am coming to the end of my fifty days of writing blog posts. Coming to the end, I realize that I never really asked myself why I should put myself through this in the first place.

I had a number of reasons (I think). The first – and main – reason is that I wanted to create a writing habit. There’s a saying that goes something like we create our habits, and then our habits create us.

I want to have a writing habit. I’ve got some plans, down the road, and I need to get in shape for them.

To create any kind of habit, I think you need to do something on a very regular basis. Daily is ideal. Being who I am, though, I often think that I’m not doing enough. I should have a loftier goal than just 500 words per day* is one mantra that runs through my head.

This leads to the same type of resolution that causes people to buy expensive memberships in gyms in January. They get involved with fitness having the best intentions, but their energy wanes and they quit.

I suspect there are a few reasons for this. One is that they don’t make fitness a habit. They go faithfully for a week. Or maybe two. But then life gets in the way, and they begin to go tomorrow.

The other, I think, is that people try to do too much early on. “I’m so out of shape. So I’m going to do an hour on the treadmill. Then I’ll lift weights for another 45 minutes. Then I’ll have one of those gross protein drinks and maybe play a little Ultimate Frisbee.”

The next day they can’t move. Will power can only do so much, no matter how strong that will is.

Instead of making a simple goal, like “I’ll just lace up my runners and walk for 10 minutes every day for the next 30 days”, people buy a Schwarzeneggerian workout and try to follow it.

Too hard. Too much for a beginner.

I didn’t want to make those mistakes. I decided that I would only commit to writing for a specific period of time: 50 days. I also picked a reasonable goal for each day: 500 words.

I can always quit after the 50 days, I told myself.

500 words may seem like a lot, if you are not writing regularly, but it is a fairly simple task for me. It’s not like in Grade 10, when I had to write 1500 words for Mr Yadlowski, and it seemed like it would take seven weeks to do it.

It’s pretty straightforward. It just takes three things: making the time, sitting my butt in the chair, and writing. Sometimes I add thinking, but only if I’m feeling a bit pretentious.

And something funny happened on the way to the forum: writing has become a habit. At least, it must be a habit, because I’ve been doing in spite of having all kinds of excuses not to do it: I haven’t had the time, I haven’t had the will, the energy or the drive, and I’ve been slowly killing myself in my own basement.

I write every day – just a little bit – and I now find that I want to write every day.

I’d say that my simple, too-easy formula has paid off.

Now, as they say, the real work can begin.

*500 words per day is 182,500 words in a year. About two regular length novels. Not like a Dan Brown epic, but more like Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Content At Christmas

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas …

I woke up to snow, and I am OK with that. I would actually be happy to not have to shovel at all, this winter, but the snow definitely made it feel a little more “Christmasy”.

Our Christmas day was a busy one. Bird in the slow cooker and elbow grease in the basement. We cleaned and tidied and arranged and set up and cooked. What seemed like an easy day – after a lot of tough ones – actually turned out to be busier than we anticipated. Still, we were able to get everything useful and ready for family.

It’s still surprising, sometimes, how happy I feel when our “children” come over. Yes, it’s Christmas, and that changes perspectives; still, I always look forward to having our house full, again.

I’m lucky that way.

It was pretty low key. We ate, talked, and laughed. We played Taboo and laughed some more at how ridiculous we were. The later it got, the more we laughed.

Laughing is good. Christmasy.

I got some great gifts: a hand made cup that I’ll use for my morning tea, a deck of cards to help break through writer’s block, and a book with 642 challenging ideas for very short stories to write.

It seems like maybe my family is nudging me in a particular direction. A little caffeine and get to work.

I already wrote about how lucky I am, so I won’t bore you by repeating it, but I am feeling especially fortunate tonight. Tomorrow we meet again, eat, and head to grandma’s house. For more eating and laughing.

There seems to be a theme developing that includes laughter and an ever-stretching stomach.

It’s true that our Christmases have changed over the years. When the boys were younger, presents were very important. When you don’t have many things, each thing gains in importance. Musical instruments, video games and other items were well received.

Times are changing. As they have hit adulthood,  their tastes have changed. They are collecting their own stuff. The wide eyed excitement at what may lie in the wrapped box is not as great as it was. Instead, it has been replaced by how useful or thoughtful the gift.

This, I think, is as it should be. We grow. We change. These things are reflected in how we give and receive gifts.

And what do Sue and I give each other for Christmas? Well, this year we gave each other a (nearly) finished basement. Which cost a heck of a lot more than the simple gifts we used to get for each other.

Time will tell whether or not we made a wise decision.

I truly didn’t need to receive a single gift to feel fortunate today. While I may not have the comparative wealth of some of my fellow Canadians, I am overly blessed with friends, family and love.

Fortunate indeed.

Tomorrow will be an unusual day: no work. That’s right. Other than making a meal, there will be no cleaning. No tidying. No moving of things.

No dust. Hallelujah! No dust. I can’t believe how good that feels.

As you can see, I have no deep thoughts, tonight. I am simply feeling grateful, happy, and content.

 

Counting My Christmas Blessings

It’s Christmas Eve, and I’m not really feeling the Christmas spirit.

I’ve been so caught up with getting our basement to the point of being usable – the kids are home tomorrow – that Christmas has kind of crept up on me.

I haven’t been a particularly jolly old soul, the last few days. In fact, I’ve been pretty ornery. Pushing too hard. Trying to get too much done. Not getting sleep.

If you are so inclined, you needn’t feel sorry for me. These are all first-world problems. Many people don’t even have a house, let alone are able to renovate the basement of it.

So I’m taking a few moments now to think about how good I really have it.

As mentioned, I have a home. This dwelling has sheltered us for the last eighteen years or so. It has seen my children grow from boys into men. It has seen joy and tears, happiness and sorrow.

It has seen our lives unfold, and it continues to shelter us from the elements.

I also have access to more food than I need. As my wife works for a world-wide relief and service organization, I am intimately acquainted with how rare this is. Billions of people are going to bed hungry tonight.

I agonize over whether to have a piece of fruit or a pepperoni stick.

I have all the modern conveniences: washer / dryer, dishwasher, fridge, freezer, and stove. In a pinch, I can pop food into a microwave and – miraculously – it is warm in a few seconds.

Netflix is a click away.

I have central heating that works – most of the time. I don’t have to spend my time searching for firewood or burning dry dung. This device works so well that the only time I notice it is when it stops working.

And I don’t have to worry about clean water. According to the UN water report, 780 million people don’t have access to clean water. 2.4 billion (with a B) don’t have adequate sanitation.

I can turn on a tap and drink clean water. I can hop in the shower as many times a day as I like. Errrr … human waste is easily disposed of.

I often think that I am not particularly well off. I’ve made many financial mistakes, over the years. That’s if I compare myself to my fellow Canadians. Canada being one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

If I think about it, though, I am incredibly well off:

  1. $3200US makes me wealthier than 50% of the world’s population
  2. $70,000US puts me in the top 10% in the world
  3. Having a net worth of between $10,000 and $100,000 makes me wealthier than nearly 5 billion people on this planet

These of course, are only the material things in my life. I am also blessed with good friends, like you. I know that if times get tough, I have people who will care for me and about me. People who will laugh and cry with me. Who will hold my hand, if needed, or kick me in the pants. Also, if needed.

And I have my family. My boys have grown into good men. In turn, they have attracted wonderful women into their lives. And, in turn, into mine. My life has been greatly enriched by these great additions to our family.

Of course, I have Sue. Sue and I have been through it all, and we’re still standing.

Together.

Nearly 30 years ago – we married at age 5 – we made vows to each other:

For better, for worse.
For richer, for poorer.
In sickness and in health.

The thing is, we, like most, I suspect, really thought:

For better, for richer, and in health.

For a good part of our lives together, it has been the opposite for me. Yet, through it all, Sue and my kids have loved me in spite of my shortcomings and issues.

This, my friends, is God’s grace lived out here on earth.

And so, on this Christmas Eve, it’s finally beginning to feel like Christmas. I am, after all, incredibly fortunate to be here.

Merry Christmas, my friends.

The Mark Of A Man

Oh man, it is late. We’ve burned through the midnight oil and started on tomorrow’s reserves.

The flooring guys came late, today, which pushed back work that we had planned to get completed in a timely manner. These things were completed, if you consider working until 1am timely.

I dragged myself up the stairs, cleaned myself up a bit and prepared to fall into bed.

Then I remembered that I had to write. I confess that I started to swear, and my swearing was punctuated by profanities.

My mother would not be pleased.

Still, I made a deal to write 500 words per day. They don’t have to be good words. They don’t have to be intelligent. They don’t even have to make sense.

I made a deal – with you and with me – that I’d get them written before I hit the hay. Or the sack. Call it a night. Grab some z’s. Get some shuteye.

Hit the hay.

Funny how we have all kinds of different words to describe the same thing.

OK, now I’ve got to focus. Got to get some words down … huh, I almost said on paper. I don’t really write on paper, much. Just lists and stuff.

My dad was teacher, back in the day when handwriting was, in his words, “the mark of a man”. I agreed that writing was indeed the mark of a man. Or woman. Writing is making marks.

He didn’t find me humorous, either.

My penmanship left – and leaves – a lot to be desired. You basically need the Rosetta Stone to decipher what I’ve scrawled onto paper.

This, apparently, was not the mark of a man.

So, when I would get home from school – from school! – I would get to spend another half hour at home, writing properly.

I hated those times. I found absolutely no pleasure in forming the letters properly. As my writing improved, I still detested that task. Especially as I had spent the day doing scholarly stuff.

So I would write neatly and nicely during my half hour, and then scrawl everything else. What  a rebel I was. That was sure showing … someone?

I found one of my old exercise books. Aptly named, I might add, as it felt like exercise to do it. And not the good kind.

My writing was actually pretty good. I tried to copy it, just for fun. Nope. It’s gone. If I take my time, I can still write legibly, but that is the best you could say about it.

I heard that cursive – hand writing – is no longer required in schools. While I might briefly think something like “Well, there’s another thing they don’t do, which is why the world is going to hell in a handbasket”, I am perfectly fine with it disappearing from school.

When I started writing on a keyboard, it took a long time to learn how to do it. I would often hand write my stuff and then type it up later. Sort of like adding up columns of numbers and checking it with a calculator.

Once I figured it out, though, my handwriting days were through. Yes, I maybe miss the connection that I had to the written word, but at least now I can read what I’ve written.

Which, in the case of this post, may not be the best thing.

Good night.

To Swear Or Not To Swear, That Is A Question

My Mom is not big on swearing. Not the oath-taking type, although Mennonites are against that, too. Cursing. Blaspheming. Uttering profanities.

In my entire life, I’ve never heard my Mom swear.

Growing up in a pretty traditional Mennonite household, swearing was one of those things that was forbidden. Along with cards and gambling. And gossiping … if the person was around to hear it.

I remember going to church one Sunday morning. This was not unusual. There would have to have been a catastrophe not to go to church. Not just a snow storm; the worst snow storm. Ever. Not a downpour; an ark-worthy flood.

I am talking something of Biblical proportions.

So a three day rain was no excuse. We piled in the old Mercury and headed off.

My brother was driving. For some reason, he was thinking that some of the side roads would be in better shape than the main grids.

He was wrong.

We hit some deep mud, the car started fishtailing, and, in slow motion, we slid into the ditch.

As we were going in, my brother yelled, “Shit!”

I know that shit hardly qualifies as a curse word or profanity. I came of age in the 80s, so I know all the words.

Shit ranks pretty low on all lists.

Plus, of all the available swears, it is the one deemed most acceptable by the Mennonite church. Well, maybe not officially, but it is not unusual to hear a Mennonite, after, say, hitting his thumb with a hammer, to yell Sheise!*

This is shit in German. German is the language that God speaks, so swearing is acceptable if using divine language. Nearly.

Since cursing is frowned upon – yet everyone (except my mother, apparently) really needs to use those words from time to time – Mennonites have come up with unusual terms to circumvent the law.

One very popular one is dousand! This word literally means thousand, which is why Schwarzenegger always said it in all his 80s action movies.  It all depends how you say it, I guess.

If dousand is bad, dievel is worse. You can probably guess that this means devil. I’m not sure how bad things have to be to use the devil’s name in vain, but it’s nice to know that it’s there when needed.

So, we’re sliding into the ditch, and my brother yells “Shit!” Not even in Low German, which might have constituted mitigating circumstances when he is judged at the Pearly Gates.

We hit the ditch and stopped. It was very quiet in the car. Well, who wouldn’t be shocked by such a vulgar display.

My Mom paused a moment, and then said, “Now … was that language really necessary?”

It was very freeing to hit high school and learn some real cursing. Some of my friends were artists, and soon I had shed my German only swearing and took on a number of English (said like you are spitting) swears.

When we had kids, I cleaned up my act and went back to only swearing in German. Going into the ministry, however, brought my 80s mouth back on line, and I was soon swearing like a sailor.

A sailor who had to keep his mouth shut, as swearing is generally frowned upon by the clergy. In public, anyway. In private, I know quite a few potty-mouthed pastors who can’t wait to blow off a little steam about a pain in the a … rear congregant.

In German, of course.

I find that, now that I’m older, I’m starting to enjoy swearing again. It really is an art form. Perhaps I’ll become an expert. I think that it takes 10,000 hours to become a master.

Hmmm. That’s a lot of swearing. I might have to go back into the ministry.

*Low German is a dialect and not a written language; therefore, it is OK to spell words however you like.