I Am Canadian

A friend of mine took me to task for complaining about things. “We have it good. Complaining just gives people the feeling that complaining is OK.” While I wrote that particular piece with my tongue firmly tucked into my cheek, his comments got me thinking.

I have it good. Really good.

A hundred years ago or so, I was a history major. As I think about my middle class, middle aged life, I realized that I have it better than … say, Charles I, also known as Charlemagne.

Charlemagne ruled from around 760 to 810ish. This “father of Europe” was ruler over much of what is now Europe. He had millions of subjects. Servants to accommodate his every whim. He had plenty of cash and jewels in his vault.

He never had indoor plumbing like I have. He couldn’t walk over to the fridge, grab some leftover food and plunk it in the microwave. His castle was no doubt incredibly uncomfortable: hot in the summer, freezing in the winter. He had to constantly be prepared for war.

In short, this king’s life sucked, compared to mine.

As I was thinking about this, I thought I would list off a few things that make me think that Canada is a fantastic place to live. Some things may resonate with you. Some you will disagree with.

The fact that we can disagree on these things, and still be friends, strikes me as being distinctly Canadian.

Canada is open to “outsiders”. I know that this is not a sentiment that is popular in some circles, but I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t true. My people came from countries where persecution reigned. As they were being persecuted and killed, they looked for a place where they could live in freedom. Religious and otherwise.

They were welcomed to Canada.

When I hear the rhetoric of closing our borders, I think that we have forgotten something pretty important; unless we are native Canadians, our forebears all came to Canada as either immigrants or refugees.

All of us.

This is an important Canadian principle for me. So important, in fact, that I voted for a political party that I had never voted for. Ever. I felt, however, that the previous government was moving away from this Canadian trait.

So I voted. Not because of fiscal plans or any particular promise. I’m a bit jaded when it comes to political promises. No, I voted because I felt a particular party had different priorities that, at the time, seemed more Canadian to me.

Clean water. I know. Not a very big thing. Most of the time, I give water almost no thought.

I think that’s the point. If I lived in a country in what we call the developing world, it is likely that having access to clean water would be a big deal. A very big deal.

A life and death deal.

I can walk over to any tap in my home, turn it on, and drink clean water. I can take a shower and flush my toilet. King Charlemagne couldn’t do any of these things.

I do it all for pennies.

I know that not every Canadian has clean water. We haven’t always done the right thing. Sometimes issues of race, politics, and greed get in the way.

Over all, though, a large majority of us have access to abundant, clean water.

Medicare. I think that most people identify Canada with having universal health care. At a point in our history, we decided on something decidedly Canadian: every person – whether they could afford it or not – should have access to health care.

What that means is that you folks who are in good health are subsidizing people like me who aren’t.

In my lifetime, I have had a couple of very major surgeries and a number of less major ones. I have been injected with a variety of expensive drugs. I’ve had so many doctor’s visits that it wouldn’t be possible to count. I have been hospitalized for lengthy periods of time.

All this – literally – cost a fortune. Fortunately for me, the bill was picked up by the Canadian taxpayers.

If I lived in the US, I would be bankrupt and broke. My quality of life would be non-existent.

It is quite probable that I’d be dead.

That’s how important medicare is to a non-healthy person. And I believe that it was Canadian’s natural impulse to help others -that led to medicare’s creation.

In the next while, I’ll be putting up a few more ideas that I think of as uniquely Canadian. Maybe you will make a few comments yourself. I’d be interested to read them.

In the meantime: I Am Canadian.

 

A Taxman Cometh

 

The only things that are certain are death and taxes. Taxes are with you forever. At least with death, you only have to pay the taxman once. 

Carl Franklin, Ben Franklin’s illegitimate half brother

We all know that we will be paying taxes. Oh sure, every year there are people who manage to avoid paying them. They use loopholes, tax lawyers, and tax avoidance to not pay their taxes.

They are often called convicted felons.

Then there are the conspiracy types. “It is illegal for the government to collect taxes. According to the Oswald Supplement issued during WW1, the government can only collect taxes for the purchase of canned meats and sardines. Not for the running of a country. For sure not that.

Certainly not for peaches at high-faluting soirees.”1

In what I assume is righteous indignation, instead of filing their returns, they send a semi-legal letter to the government that goes something like this:

Dear Government of Canada:

You disgust me. It’s illegal to collect money for any use other than purchasing canned meats and sardines because of the Oswald Supplement of 1913. I, therefore, and hencewith, will not be sending in my tax return.

I hate your stinking guts.

Love,
“Rebel” Billy Bob Burnett

PS – Good luck trying to get any cash from me.2

The government gets these letters, turns them over to the CRA – Canadian [Money] Retrieval Agency (the Money is silent) – who then freeze the account and garnish their wages until they’ve paid what the government thinks is owed them.

They are free to do what they like with the $312.62 left over.

The government has become quite adept at taxation. This has happened for a number of reasons:

  1. It is expensive to run a country. Things like universal medicare are expensive. So, too, are building roads and patrolling borders. It is also not cheap to have plain, brown paper bags filled with cash laying around “just in case.”3
  2. According to the Constitution of Labrador, the government should be disliked. There has only ever been one government in Canada’s history that has been liked. In the year 1812 – 55 years before Canada became a country – America decided that they, too, wanted universal health care, and they decided to invade Canada to get it. This is because Napoleon was a douche bag and everyone hated France. General Brock decided to burn down the White House to cool things off, which resulted not only in great popularity for the crown, but was also the beginning of the popular saying “Don’t mess with Canada, or we’ll burn the White House down like it was 1812”.4
  3. The CRA needs to be self funding. “We don’t want no handouts,” said Bruno Gerussi, head of the CRA. “We – me, Jesse, and Relic – are proud of the work we do, and we are good at doing it. After all the expenses are paid, the government is free to do what it likes with the $312.62 left over.”5

The CRA’s – previously Revenue Canada, which had a much cooler ring to it so, naturally, it got changed – piece of resistance was the GST. Brought in under the Regan administration, the GST – Grab all the Stuff Tax – is a consumption tax of approximately 47% levied against every living – or dead – person in Canada.6

I know that this has been a fascinating and accurate – check out my citations at the end – essay, and I haven’t even begun to explore the latest, and most brilliant, tax yet: a tax against all carbon based beings.

As this covers everyone, you should expect taxes to continue rising in the future. The likelihood of taxes going down are in direct relation to hell freezing over.

  1. Source: Wikipedia, so you know it’s true.
  2. Actual letter to the CRA
  3. Source: Ron Maclean’s Magazine
  4. Brock, Isaac. How I Burned Down the White House and Made the Government Popular for The First Time In Canadian History – Which Hadn’t Yet Been Formed … Exactly. Plains of Abraham Publishers, 1813. http://google.ca
  5. Nick Adonidas, The Beachcombers. 1961-2037.
  6. Genuine imitation statistics, gathered through  double blind testing of a representative number (11) of mainly unemployed old white guys known as the “senate:”. http://itsapileoshite.ca

 

Bang Your Head For Metal Health

I am a music lover. I like listening to music. I like singing music. I like performing music. I’m not saying I’m particularly good at any of these things, but I love them, just the same.

For me, music can change my state like nothing else can.

The other day, I was driving around with the radio on. Cum On Feel The Noize by Quiet Riot came over the airwaves, and I was instantly transported back to 1983.

I spent much of the ’83-’84 school year in the basement of my friend Darryl’s place. He had a pool table, a hot tub, and more albums than I had ever seen before. He was a block from the school, so it was easy to pop over on short notice.

There was always a bit of danger associated with cutting class … I mean utilizing my numerous spares and heading over to his place.

His dad was the principal.

We’d head over, pick some tunes, shoot some pool and talk about girls. For a kid who didn’t get out much socially, it was pretty great.

Remember when the rumor was that “girls ROCK your boys” was actually something else? Ooh. Subversive.

When I hear that song, my mind often goes to 1983 in Darryl’s basement.

Songs can do that. They can transport you to a different place. They can take you to a place where you don’t feel so insecure. They can take you to a place where you feel powerful. The can take you to a place where you feel alive.

Too bad I never learned how to dance.

Michael Jackson was one of those performers who could change the state of just about anyone within earshot. The driving bass line of Billie Jean. Just Beat It … no one wants to be defeated.

And, of course, Thriller.

Thriller was the first music video I ever saw. The second, if you are curious, was Owner of a Lonely Heart by Yes.

That video blew my mind. Thriller, I mean.

I remember thinking that I must have walked in on a movie or something. Except MJ was singing to a pretty girl. And there were zombies. Well, grisly ghouls, I guess. The dancing. The music. The singing. Vincent Price.

It was a completely new experience for me.

Thriller was also the first tape that I ever owned. I cranked it up in my Toyota Tercel and imagined I was a badass cruising down Main Street.

When I heard that Michael had gotten a billion dollar deal with Sony, I knew why: he could transform people’s states of mind.

Remember his Pepsi commercials? He refused to talk about Pepsi. Wouldn’t hold a can. Wouldn’t even appear in a shot with it. In reality, he didn’t like Pepsi, and yet, Pepsi paid him millions to advertise for them.

Why? His music changed people’s states of mind, and they associated that with Pepsi.

My musical tastes have changed, over the years. Different music turns my crank. Still, there is nothing like those songs you heard when you were coming of age.

When Jon Bon Jovi sings Gina dreams of running away, it always puts a lump in my throat. Even when I perform it. The first few bars of Sweet Home Alabama have me saying “turn it up.” Summer of ’69 has me reaching to crank up the volume.

Music can transport me to another place and time, and it makes me smile.

Censoring Your Sabretooth For Faster Writing

I’ve been writing every day for 20+ consecutive days. I think I’m learning a few “tricks” to write faster.

First off, I think I’ve got a bit of a mental block about writing fast. If I write it fast, I think, it probably won’t be any good. So, take your time and get it right.

I think this is one of those conditioned responses I have from who knows where.

Here’s what I’ve discovered: the faster I write, the better it is.

Oh, I hear you saying, you must write these posts quite slowly then, eh?

It’s true, though – I write better the faster I write.

It’s hard to write fast. I want to make everything perfect. For example, no spelling mistakes. I’m a bit anal when it comes to spelling. I like everything to be right. Expecialley wurds licke occassionally.

This slows me down, because I’m not the best typist. I make lots of mistakes. If I take the time to fix them when they happen – which I do – it breaks the flow, and I slow down.

So, I try not to worry about spelling. It doesn’t work, but I try.

Ditto for grammar. I’m not quite as nerdy when it comes to grammar. I don’t mind splitting an infinitive, dangling a participle, or throwing in a gerund – which is not even a thing, if you don’t mind my saying.

Still, I have a thing about using the right word. Like to, too, or two. Or your, you’re, or yore. Stuff like that.

This also slows me down and makes my writing worse.

The thing that slows me down the most, however, is my built in Censor.

I think we all have one. Again, it’s likely a holdover from sabretooth tiger days. You’re at the edge of the treeline, and there is a rocky stretch between you and the safety of the forest across the way.

Do you venture out? This is a perfect spot for a sabretooth attack. The Censor says “You must be nuts. Stay here, where it’s safe.”

We don’t have sabreteeth anymore. Or sabretooths. The Censor, however, is alive and well.

Writing is a risky business. You put your thoughts out into the world. People might think you are smart. More likely, however, is that they will think you a dolt. A nitwit. A buffoon.

Sticks and stones, they say, can ruin a good dinner party, but names will never hurt you.

Which is the biggest lie of all, of course.

Anytime I start to put down anything – especially if it is something on the personal side – my Censor jumps in. “Slow down. This is scary. There could be a tiger nearby.”

My toughest battle, so far, is to punch the Censor right in the mush.

It’s getting a bit easier. There are times when I have something to say. I’m starting to say it.

And I don’t die.

Oh sure, not everyone agrees with what I say. There are some unfortunates out there who don’t see my brilliance. My sympathies.

Still, my skin is getting slightly tougher, and I find myself to be more willing to write about things that are important. Even if they are only important to me.

So get in the backseat, Censor. I’m writing. I’m alive. Oh, and I’m done.

Going Off The Deep End

 

I’m a little cheesed off. Ticked. My goat has been gotten. I’m hot under the collar. Something’s sticking in my craw.

Vexed.

With my experience of being alive on this planet for a half a hundred years, I should know that other people don’t operate on the same principles as I. We all have our own sense of right and wrong.

The problem is that sometimes your right is my wrong.

Case in point; we own a rental property.

When you rent a property, a normal part of business is that you sign a lease. This is a legal document that protects both parties – the tenant and the landlord.

For example, the tenant agrees that, for the length of the lease, he / she will not trash the place and will pay the monthly rent. This is the protection for the landlord.

The protection for the tenant is that the landlord, as long as the above conditions are met, can’t kick the tenant out on a whim. For example, if a friend suddenly needs a place to rent, the landlord can’t say to the tenant “Sorry. You’re out.”

Likewise, if rents suddenly skyrocket, the tenant is locked in at the agreed upon rate. If rents fall, the original rate is also locked in.

Protection for both parties. A good thing. Everyone knows upfront what the expense / income per month will be.

Our tenants just broke the lease. Moved out. Left a big mess.

Two months into a lease. Suddenly it is too expensive.

I try to allow the milk of human kindness to run through my veins. I feel like I’m a pretty empathetic person. I generally have compassion.

Not for stuff like this.

But Ron, you say, things happen. Perhaps the person lost his job. Maybe there was a huge emergency that came up. The stars may have gone out of alignment.

These things are true. If they happen, it is up to you to try and come up with a solution that benefits the other party. My heart is not made of stone. I can negotiate.

Leaving is not negotiation.

But Ron … you don’t know how you would react in a similar situation. You think you do, but you don’t.

Wrong. I once paid rent for 3 months on a place that I never lived in. Why? Because I said I would. Things changed for me. That doesn’t mean I don’t follow through with what I said I’d do.

Oh, so you think you’re some kind of hero? Nope. Not heroic in the least. Not a saint. Half the time not even a very nice person.

But it was the right thing to do. I had made an agreement.

When did the right thing to do become an option?

I know that personal responsibility is an anachronism. It wasn’t my fault seems to be the rallying cry of a generation.

I know that I live in a world that has many shades of grey. I am OK with that. I have screwed up so many times that I no longer have much inclination to judge anyone.

The grey areas are OK with me.

And yet … some things still tick me off. Try my patience. Take the biscuit.

I think I need an Tylenol.

On Doctors, Heating Pads, And Uncle Tom

I grew up in a small town with small United and Mennonite churches. In a small town with predominantly Caucasian people.

And by predominantly, I mean totally.

The first time I met a person of colour was at my doctor’s office. I was probably 4 or 5. Around there, somewhere.

I remember really liking the magazines and books that were in the waiting room. There were a bunch of National Geographics from the 60s, old medical journals, and an illustrated comic book called Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

In retrospect, there may be some irony there.

When I got called in to the doctor’s office, I saw him. White gleaming lab coat. Clipboard in his hands. Shiny silver stethoscope around his neck.

And the blackest skin I had ever seen.

I was probably staring, because mom gave me a nudge.

I don’t remember what I was there for. I was a bit of a sickly kid, so, as time went by, it wasn’t uncommon to end up in this office. Probably tonsillitis. That seemed to be a recurring theme.

I got the full work over.

He had the greatest accent I had ever heard. [I found out later that he was from some place called Jamaica] Likely, it was the only accent I’d ever heard, except for Low German.

“Ya, mon. I’m going to check your reflexes now. Try to keep your leg from moving.”

Tap. Leg jerk. Big laugh from the doctor.

“That seems to be working. Let’s check your lungs and heart.”

Freezing cold stethoscope on my back and chest. Random tapping. Slight humming from the doctor.

“Sounds OK. Let’s check your throat.”

I remember now. It was tonsillitis. When he rubbed my throat, it hurt like crazy.

“Now for the belly.”

A few more taps, which also felt bad. “Tsk. Tsk. A bit of infection.”

All in all, it was pretty cool.

Then it was time for the diagnosis. “Your son has tonsillitis and a low grade infection. Those tonsils should come out.”

My mom said, “No.”

“OK then. The best thing is to drink plenty of liquids. That will bring down the fever. Also, two Aspirin.”

“What about his stomach?”

He paused, deep in thought. Then he brightened. “Merely put a heating pad on it.”

Over the years that I saw him, the last part was part of every prescription: “Merely put a heating pad on it.”

He was a great doctor … as long as nothing was actually wrong with you. If there was something seriously wrong with you – something time couldn’t really heal on its own – you were in deep trouble.

As my visits became a bit more frequent, his prescription of “Merely put a heating pad on it” got less and less helpful. I still felt better when I left his office, simply, I think, because he was such a happy and upbeat guy.

Just not so much of a good doctor.

In spite of his lack of any concrete help for me, I was still reluctant to move on to a new doctor. Who knows what kind of crazy treatment some other doctor might come up with.

The heating pad had gotten me this far.

Still, I eventually moved on to another doctor. As I explained my symptoms and what was generally going on, he said, “Have you ever heard of Prednisone?”

I’ve been with him ever since. Even though he has never prescribed using a heating pad for my ailments.

By the way, I still have my tonsils … in a jar, beside my bed.*

*That just sounds creepy. They’re not beside my bed … they’re in a little box in the basement.

Defining Moments And Small Speeches

But in life we don’t usually get to choose the time of our defining moments. We just have to stand and face them when they come, no matter what sort of a state we’re in.
Darren Shan

I think we all have defining moments.

Maybe it was when you got married or had children. Maybe it was when it finally clicked as to what you wanted to be when you grew up. Maybe it was when you bought your first house. Or car.

Maybe when a loved one passed.

When I look at my life, I see big moments like that, full of … I don’t know. Importance. I also have some small defining moments. Which is probably an oxymoron.

Or some kind of moron.

A distinct one floated into my consciousness, today.

I’m not exactly sure what grade I was in. 9 or 10, I think. Around there, anyway.

The scene was English (9 or 10ish). The day I had been dreading was finally here: speech day. Not the big write a speech and deliver it that we were all subjected to; rather, it was a small, impromptu speech day.

We were each asked to write a simple premise on a piece of paper. When all the papers were collected, the teacher would pull one out of a hat and assign it to the first person on the list.

When you have a lastname like Schellenberg, your name is usually at the end of the list. This was both good and bad; I wouldn’t have to go on first, but the fear would also have time to gnaw away at my innards.

And fear is exactly what I felt. Cold sweat began pouring from my armpits and down my back. My breathing became a bit more shallow. My stomach was churning.

There were not many things that terrified me more than speaking in public. My natural shyness was not helpful. My introvertedness: ditto.

I didn’t know, then, some of the physical tricks I know now to calm myself.

I tried to psych myself up. I kept saying to myself it’s only two minutes. You can stand up there for two minutes. You won’t die.

Don’t wet yourself.

My friends were going up to the front and doing their thing. They all looked so cool! Probably they weren’t terrified like me, I thought at the time.

We were getting closer to the Ss.

Now the physical reaction was really setting in. My muscles were quivering. My breath was not right. I thought I might pass out.

“Ron, you’re next,” said the teacher.

I took a deep breath and stood up, praying that I wouldn’t fall over, wet myself, or have my zipper down.

I took the small piece of paper from the teacher. My friend Rick had written “Why does a bunny rabbit change from white to brown?”

Luckily, I was on my feet. You know that old saying think on your feet? It had always been true, for me. It always felt like I could handle things a little better if I was standing up. Moving a bit.

I looked at the paper, cursed my buddy in my mind, and took another deep breath.

The word metamorphosis popped into my mind.

I suddenly knew what to say and how to say it.

I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I think it was pretty good. When I got my first laugh, I started to relax. The more relaxed I got, the better I spoke.

I finished and sat down. The teacher called up the next student, and I breathed again.

The world did not end. A friend who sat behind me said “That was good. Funny.” As the adrenaline slowly started to work its way out of my system, the inevitable sick-to-the-stomach feeling swept over me.

But I had done it. I realized that, from that moment on, I could get up and talk to a room full of people. Yes, I’d still be nervous. Yes, I’d feel like I was going to have a bodily function mishap.

But I could do it.

It’s funny how some things stick in your mind. Funerals. Marriage. Births. Learning to ride a bike. Climbing a tree.

That little moment – only two minutes long – changed my life.

When class was over, the teacher called me over. “Metamorphosis, eh?” he said with a sly smile. Then he got serious. “You were good because you were yourself.”

He looked me straight in the eye. “Always be yourself, and you will do fine.”

Good advice. Then and now.

Who Are You?

I went to church, this morning, and my old history professor was behind the pulpit.

It was late 1980 something when I first met him. He bounded into the lecture hall of the History of the Ancient World class and yelled “You are the most intelligent people on this campus! It’s here that you will study the very foundations upon which we live today!”

His enthusiasm for talking history never waned. While he may not have been the most exciting lecturer I had ever had, he was certainly one of the most passionate.

Until recently, he was still teaching at the University of Saskatchewan. In fact, my son had him for a history class as well.

His stories were still the same. Early on in a semester, he would – rather gleefully – state that he had done waaay too many drugs in the 70s, and he had pursued all sorts of religions and thoughts.

In short, he was a lot of fun.

A while ago, he was diagnosed with cancer. Terminal.

We had just been going to a new church for a while when I ran into him. Of course, he didn’t remember me. He has likely taught thousands of people, and I just wasn’t that memorable.

Our relationship has been interesting. With both of us being sick to the point that we can no longer currently work, we began to have a few short talks about living life with limits.

His thoughts are much deeper than mine. Of course, so are a Labrador’s, most of the time. He has spent considerable time and thought coming to grips with his impending demise.

This morning, he spoke about the unity of all things. For example, in order for there to be soil, minerals, and the various elements on our earth, stars and planets in other galaxies have decayed or exploded over time.

In effect, he said, we live on space dust and debris.

While he didn’t mention the large amounts of drugs he had consumed decades prior, he did indicate that his mind was now prone to wander somewhat.

His main gist, I think, was that we have, over the years, forgotten that we are spirits having a human experience, not the other way around. And if we are able to strip away the walls we have built around ourselves, we would rediscover our innate divinity.

He finished off with the profound words of a woman who works in palliative care ward. She said something to the effect of

Don’t just do something. Sit there.

An exhortation, I think, that she learned by working with the dying. The people who had stripped away all the unimportant things in their lives. The people who could no longer do.

The people who could only be.

I think there is something powerful about this. Healthy people often get their feelings of self worth by doing. What do you do for a living is one of the first things we ask of a person we have just met.

Imagine if we instead asked who are you instead.

It’s given me something to think about for the next while.

Thanks, professor Reese. You’re still teaching and fighting the good fight.

The Kids Are Alright

As parents, there are a lot of things we are required to do. Just by the nature of the job, we have agreed to feed, clothe and house our children. We have agreed to hold their hands when they are scared. We have agreed to live in a home that loses its value on a daily basis, as they kick through walls and break windows.

There are also some things that we are not required to do. We are not required to get them out of every tough spot. We are not required to make sure they never get hurt.

And we certainly are not required to live our own lives vicariously through theirs.

Each year, we hear about some crazed parent who forgets about the things we are not required to do. It often comes to the forefront through sports.

Little Johnny is playing hockey. Even though he is already in his teens, he skates a bit on his ankles, and his skating speed is slightly more than steam roller. He does, however, have a booming slapshot.

His parents are convinced that little Johnny is NHL material. Forget the fact that a kid has about a 1 in 4000 chance of making the NHL. Forget that he isn’t dominating at every age.

Little Johnny is the exception. It’s just that the coach, the fans, and – especially – the referee don’t seem to grasp the situation.

So the parents begin to pester the coach for more playing time. They glare and yell at any fan who dares boo their boy. And, of course, they react outrageously when the referee dares to call them offside.

Or sends them to the penalty box.

This is when all hell breaks loose. Screaming. Tantrums. Threats of bodily harm to the ref after the game.

All because the parents forgot that there are things that parents are not required to do.

I’ve always loved being a dad. People have asked me, now that my sons are both adults, what stage of their lives was my favourite.

I can honestly say that I’ve enjoyed them all.

So … we raise our children to the best of our abilities. We make sure they have food, clothing, and a roof over their heads. We try to instill some basic values in them: the importance of hard work, of doing unto others, and of caring for someone other than themselves.

And then we let them go.

They were never really ours to begin with. They have always been themselves.

Will my sons make mistakes? Yes, although they both have very intelligent and caring significant others, so the chances of major screwups goes down.

Will they get hurt? As much as I’d like to hope that they wouldn’t, it’s almost a certainty that they will.

Will they be alright? I am certainly hopeful that they will be.

Does this “hands off” attitude mean that I won’t be there to help them out if they need it? Of course not. But … only if they ask.

They are smart and resourceful. They can figure things out on their own.

Tonight, my oldest son has a CD release concert with his band. I have seen – and heard – his dedication to learning to master the guitar. I have heard his singing voice improve with every practice and performance. I’ve seen him arrange venues, get cds printed, and the various other things that need to happen to give a band a shot at success. Whatever success means to them.

He’s alright.

My younger son is currently at university in Winnipeg. He is there because he loves music. More importantly, he is there because he has drive and determination to overcome obstacles.

I remember – painfully – getting him his first set of drums and listening to the awful racket. Those marathon, daily sessions still echo in my mind. Now, though, through hard work and dedication, he makes music with his hands.

He’s alright.

What was my part in their successes? Sure, I paid for lessons. Yes, I encouraged and supported them.

Their success, though, is because of their own hard work. Because they are their own people.

My job, as a dad, really boils down to one thing: let my kids know I love them.

If I’ve done that, then I think it’s a job well done, and that’s enough for me.

Belief vs Faith

I like working with my hands. I find that doing repetitive, physical tasks lets my mind wander and think its own thoughts.

When I was a kid, some of my favourite times were sitting on the lawnmower, cutting our 5 acres of grass. My mind would wander. I might be a famous Formula 1 driver. Or a pilot. Or any number of other stories.

My mind was wandering today, and I recalled a time from a few years back.

I had just come out of the hospital after a relatively short period of time. Although I was able to go back to work, my body was drained. My mind was fuzzy.

These conditions have hit me, over the years, and I knew that I could rely on one thing to see me through: my unbridled optimism for life.

Through all the things I’ve gone through, my spirit has always remained strong. I could rely on it to see me through.

And now it was gone, too.

I have never felt so low. Not when my business went under. Not even when I was in a hospital bed for 4 months at death’s door.

I had no energy to examine what I was thinking. I had no energy to seek answers to my predicament. I simply existed, wondering when it would all end.

I was lucky. I have family and friends who continued to love me and wish me well. But there was a question that kept nagging at me. In the back of my mind, the voice kept asking: where was God in all of this?

My life is intertwined with the church. I went from birth. Against my will, a lot of the time, but I went all the same.

There were a few things that I remember being taught: God is a just God, God loves you, pray to God and your prayers would be answered.

I had tried, in my way, to be faithful to these beliefs. This all came tumbling down.

If God was just, why was I sick? If God loves me, why was I sick? If God answers prayers, why was I sick?

At the time, I had no answers. I couldn’t do. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t feel.

I just existed.

It hit me today that I had mistaken belief and faith.

What’s the difference? I used to think none, but I was mistaken.

I think belief is some construct that your mind comes up with. I see the earth. It looks flat. I see a ball. If I tried to stand on the bottom side of a ball, I’d fall off. Therefore, the earth must be flat.

We snicker, now. People believed that the earth was flat for millenia, and that you could fall off the edge. This is not even an ancient belief. I remember an uncle of mine saying that the earth was flat. Also that no one had ever stood on the moon. It was so small, how could someone stand on it?

But this belief in a flat earth changed. I suppose seafarers had known it forever. They saw a ship go over the horizon. Oh, the earth must be curved.

Now, of course, we all know that the earth is round.

That’s a belief. A mind-made construct.

Faith, though … faith, I think, is something that comes from a different place. That intangible place we call soul or spirit.

As my mind chattered on about how all my beliefs were wrong and how I’d wasted my time believing them, my spirit started to say it’s OK.

All of my beliefs were crumbling before me. All the things I had thought about God and religion were passing away. All of my beliefs were up for review, but my faith, apparently, had remained intact.

It’s OK.

Even if my whole belief system was flawed or outright wrong. Even if I had wasted so much time and energy putting on a “good front”, trying to be perfect, or someone I wasn’t. Even if I didn’t know what to think anymore.

It’s OK.

Beliefs, I believe, come and go. The earth is flat. The earth is round. This race of people is good. This race of people is bad. The government is for the people. The government is for itself. God punishes the bad and rewards the good. God let’s the rain fall equally on the good and the bad.

Through all these belief changes – and they can be pretty traumatic – faith is what keeps you tethered. In electrical terms grounded.

Did God do this to me? Or was it just the circumstances of life? Belief needs to know the answer to this question.

Faith, on the other hand, says I don’t know, but it’s OK either way.