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.

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Original Cinema Quad Poster - Movie Film Posters

Poster for the movie Dreamscape, 1984. Which people thought was made up, but was really my autobiography.

I think it is safe to say that I have an imagination. An active imagination. Active enough that quite a few teachers, over the years, went so far as to say an overactive imagination.

But I don’t like to brag.

Like anything, an overactive imagination has positives and negatives. If, for example, you have a sister who, despite her protests to the contrary, may be the spawn of Satan, an active imagination can help you get out of a tight spot.

Although, no matter how imaginative you are, you still might get blamed for something you didn’t do. Not that I’m still bitter, you understand. Just saying.

But it can get you into trouble, too. Like if, in your imagination, you are an heroic figure – buff, tanned, and filled with cool, Schwarzeneggeresque one liners – but in reality you are a pale, scrawny lad with a penchant for opening his mouth when it should remain closed. Not that these things have happened to me. Again, I’m just saying.

The other night, my imagination nearly got me killed*

One of the side effects of an overactive imagination can be dreams. Happy dreams. Dreams where you meet the love of your life and have lots and lots of … well, I was a teenager, once, so you can fill in the blank.

Unfortunately, I rarely dream like that. My dreams are more on the dark side of things. Less “Ha Ha” and “Tra la la” and more “Holy Crap! I’m about to die!”

Others might categorize them as horrible, terrible, and possibly demonic, but I’m not one to judge.

I don’t know if you remember the movie Dreamscape from the 80s. In this movie, an evil dude can go into other people’s dreams and control – or kill – them there. And he has trapped – oh no! – the president of the United States in his own dream.

If this were actually a thing, I would be the king of the world. Cause I’ve dreamed some nasty sh … er, stuff. You wouldn’t stand a chance. Trust me. In reality, all of you would kick my butt.

But in dreamland … well, in dreamland, my friend, I would be your king.

Anyway, my body doesn’t know the difference between dreamland and reality. So, if I’m fighting to save my son from being pulled into the depths of hell by a demon – a possibility, I suppose, but that would be his choice – and I happen to wake up, I am drenched in sweat. My heart is pounding. And I usually have an overpowering need to urinate.

So, the other night, I was woken up from my peaceful nighttime ritual, by … something. I had jumped out of my bed and was ready to do battle with … well, I’m not sure with what, as I can’t remember anymore. I was drenched in sweat. My heart was pounding, and I was experiencing some slight … umm … pressure.

By the way, if a person in the health care field ever says “You may experience a little pressure”, you can assume something painful is about to happen. Something very painful.

“We’re going to start your open heart surgery. You may feel a little pressure.” “We’re going to reset the bone. You may experience a little pressure.” “My fingers are small. You may experience a little pressure.”

So, I’m standing there. Beside my bed. Ready to do battle with whomever – or whatever – is out there.

And I hear a noise. No. It couldn’t be. And yet …

Yep. Someone is moving around. Stealthily. In my house.

In. My. House!

My heart kicks up to another level. My vision tunnels on the doorway to the bedroom. I can hear a pin I dropped three days ago.

More movement. Then … the sound of water running.

The audacity! Some thief has the balls to break into my home – while I’m at home! – and then takes a drink . Oh, the cheek! Oh, the presumption! Oh, the effrontery of it all!

So, while adrenaline kicks in your “fight or flight” tendencies, I was definitely tending towards fight. In a very gentle and Mennonite way, no doubt, but fight nonetheless.

I debated whether or not to go out and confront the villain head on, or wait until he made his way to the bedroom and pounce from behind the door. Before I could decide, he comes creeping down the hall towards me!

I had about a second to size him up. Thankfully, he was quite a bit smaller than I. If I’m going to confront a burglar, I prefer them to be smaller. A little smaller is good. Considerably smaller is better. Tiny with a gimp and a small cane would be best.

Although, he might use the cane on me …

As I prepared to leap – like a graceful, yet terrible, leopard on the Savanna – he totally blew my mind. He strode – like he owned the place! – over to the other side of the bed and …

He slipped in!

It was at that moment when reality showed itself. Trying to sound cool, but with a little Eastwood husk in my voice, I said “Sue?”

And Sue said “What? Did I wake you up?”

“No,” I said, clenching my … whatever it is you clench to keep from filling your boxers. “No, I just needed to go to the bathroom.”

“Night.”

There are positives and negatives to having an active imagination. Sometimes I’m not sure which is which. Just saying.

*It didn’t really nearly get me killed, folks. Again, I like to keep these rated PG13. ish.

Acceptance vs Agreement

“I accept that. “
Chuckie Marstein, Sons of Anarchy

I often learn lessons the hard way. This is not because I’m a particularly bad person. Or that I don’t get things. Or that I don’t have a lot of lessons to learn.

It’s mostly that I’m not that bright.  Plus, as Sue points out, I’m a man.*

I bang my head against a wall for a long time. Then I find a way around, over, under or through it. Then, when I meet another wall, I immediately start to bang my head against it. Again.

As I said, not that bright.

The last couple of years have been tough for me. My health has been less than perfect. I’ve been off work more than I’ve been on. My mind has been struggling – too small to be wandering off by itself. And my spirit has taken a bit of a beating.

All in all, some tough times.

I’ve recently discovered that part of my issue, aside from the aforementioned brightness problem, is that I may have a problem accepting reality.

I’ve dealt with Crohn’s disease for about thirty years. Through a combination of medication, force of will (or what Sue calls “stubbornness”), and a blatant disregard for reality, I have managed to have a very good, sort of normal life.

I’ve learned all sorts of coping mechanisms – breathing into the pain is one of my favorites – and I can put on a pretty good show of being normal (ha!), looking healthy (double ha!), and being competent (is there such a thing as a triple ha?)

I have always believed that I can create my own reality. If only I put my mind/will/spirit into things, I come out normal. If not normal, then at least the appearance of normal.

Why have I worked so hard at appearing normal? A part of me is afraid that if I accept the fact that I’m sick (which I am), that fact will somehow define me.

And if there is one definition that I don’t want, it’s to be “the sick guy”.

And because I have trouble accepting this reality, I do dumb things. Like I don’t ask for help if I need it. Or request time off when necessary. Or admit that I need long naps to get through the day.

And … sometimes … I don’t go to the doctor when I should. Although I’m getting much better at this last one.

The problem isn’t that I have done these things. Everyone – I think – has done something dumb in the past. No, it’s not the dumb things I’ve done that annoy me.

It’s the fact that I keep doing them. Over and over. Like a bad habit.

I’ve been thinking about this. A lot. Hey … I’ve got the time. I’ve come to the conclusion that I have been mistaking acceptance with agreement.

You see, I thought that if I accepted a particular reality – in this case, that I have a physical problem – that meant that I agreed with that state. You know, that I thought being sick was OK.

I’ve been rethinking this, and I’ve come to the following conclusion: Acceptance isn’t the same thing as agreement. Acceptance, I think, is saying “Hey, this is where I am currently at”. It’s not a judgement call. Just a statement of reality.

It’s a bit like my bank account. If I look at it and see a negative balance, I can either choose to accept that this is a reality, or I can pretend that it isn’t. Saying that I have a negative balance doesn’t mean that I like it. It’s just the reality.

What I do about it is what makes the difference. If I simply say “Well, that’s what the old overdraft is for”, and keep on spending, I’m going to see the same result next month. You know, banging my head against a wall.

If the reality makes me say “Oh. I guess I’m spending more than I make”, and change my spending habits, I’m going to have a different result next month.

If I accept that I have made some poor choices, health-wise, in the past, this lets me make some changes. For example, if I realize that I wait too long to go to see my doctor, I can now try to make better decisions.

Besides, I’m sure my doctor would like to take a trip someplace warm, too. Gotta keep him in business.

Acceptance also comes before forgiveness. It’s pretty easy for me to beat myself up about poor choices I’ve made in the past. I am pretty good at forgiving others. I’m really awful at forgiving myself.

Acceptance doesn’t mean that I agree with all the choices I’ve made in the past. It just means that I acknowledge that I have some unhelpful habits and beliefs that have kept me from asking for the help I’ve needed. And that I can change these things.

Soooo … I’m working at accepting things. Physical realities. Economic realities. Vocational realities. And, having accepted things about myself, and maybe throwing in some forgiveness along the way, maybe I can work at changing the habits and beliefs that have brought me here.

One can always hope.

*I’m not sure I can do much about either of these things. Maybe I just need to accept that.

On Dogs, Dad, and Dying

I had a kind of a strange day. I sat down to write, as I’ve been trying to do every day. My powers of procrastination kick in every time, so I have to trick myself into starting .

Just sit down, I say to myself. What’s the harm in sitting down?

Just one sentence, I tell myself. Just one.

It’s like dealing with a stubborn child.

Once the first sentence is down, I’m hooked and ready to rock. Until then, I check email, Facebook, Twitter (not really. I have an account but don’t know what to do with it), play a couple of games, take out the garbage … and then I really procrastinate.

So, I was writing about my dog, Sam. I grew up on a farm, and had two older siblings whose mission in life was to torment me, so I had a lot of “me” time. My dog was more than a faithful companion; he was my friend. I could tell him stuff, and no matter how whiny, arrogant, or angry I was, he would always listen patiently. And then give me a good “licking”.

So I was enjoying my time. In the back of my mind, though, I knew I had to tackle something pretty tough. Something I didn’t know how to write.

My Dad died when I was four. I have very few memories of him, some warm, fuzzy feelings, and that’s about it. He died before I really understood what death was.

Anyway, here I was, writing thousands of words about my dog. Then it’s time for Dad, and I didn’t know what to say. Which is unusual for me, because I always have something to say.

I started by writing out my memories. Simple things that made me smile. And, suddenly, I was sobbing uncontrollably. I’m at my keyboard, trying to write, and there are so many tears rolling down my face that I was afraid my keyboard would short out.

I’m not even sure what it was about. A sense of loss? A sense of what could have been? I don’t know. I kept on writing. When I got to the end, I realized that I knew way more about my dog than my Dad.

And I think that’s OK.  Life, I’ve discovered (the hard way, mostly), is not neat and tidy. When I was younger, it was a black and white world. Now I see so many shades of grey that I could probably write a book about it.

Maybe that’s already been done.

One of the things that I’m discovering is that each episode in my life has moved me on to the next. In a perfect world, I would have been able to script out a less painful, more productive way of moving forward, but there is no perfect world. Just the life we have to live in the present one.

I tried to tell the truth about my Dad, from my four year old perspective. I’m a bit afraid to read it, because it is likely not very good. But, at the end of that writing session, I felt like I was a writer. Not some guy dabbling, but like I was doing something real and important.

I think that’s a writer’s job – to tell the truth, even if everything is made up.

Passing Gas Is OK – In the Right Context

Context is very important.

For example, if you are out with a buddy who, in his younger days, had a number of run-ins with the law while “fracturing” the speed limit, it is entirely OK to relive some of his hilarious escapades in trying to talk his way out of stuff.

If, however, the same buddy has asked you to be a character witness in a trial for him, run-ins with the law may not be quite as appropriate.

I’m discovering the Law of Context here at home as I recover from some fun times in the hospital.

If you’ve ever been in the hospital for something serious, you will know one thing: bodily functions that we don’t talk about at home are talked about in the hospital.

Actually, talked about is too mild – Celebrated is more like it!

Case in point … “Ron, have you been able to void your bladder?” (This will also be called “peeing” by a nurse with a 4 year degree).

“Yes”, I say.

“Awesome!”

Passing gas? Cause for celebration. A bowel movement? Let’s get a cake! OK, you can’t have cake, but if you could, we’d get you one! Good for you! That’s a good boy, a very goood boy!

The same events – happening at home – are less than exciting. In fact, they can be met with an upturned (or most likely plugged) nose.

I am still recuperating at home. To be honest, it’s not going as well as I’d hoped. I am having some difficulty with solid foods, and those unmentionable bodily functions are not working quite the way they should. This worries me because if things don’t improve, we would have to take some more drastic measures.

I don’t much care for drastic measures.