This is a post, of the sort, that I rarely write. It will try to express, from my deepest heart, my own sense of conflict in a world that, with passing years, becomes more clearly hostile or as is explored by The Little Prince, in my favourite grown-up book, uninhabitable.
Within the context of this hostility, I seek out tender and beautiful moments so that I might share, as much as I can, positivity, without politicizing or pontificating or professing my own views so as to be delicate with my social media readers. Well, today, I’m going to deliberately confront, for no better reason than to get things off my chest. It will not matter because the world will continue to be inhabited by, according to Chapter 16 of St. Exupery’s The Little Prince…
The Earth is not just an ordinary planet! One can count, there, 111 kings (not forgetting, to be sure, the Negro kings among them), 7000 geographers, 900,000 businessmen, 7,500,000 tipplers, 311,000,000 conceited men–that is to say, about 2,000,000,000 grown-ups.
To give you an idea of the size of the Earth, I will tell you that before the invention of electricity it was necessary to maintain, over the whole of the six continents, a veritable army of 462,511 lamplighters for the street lamps.
Seen from a slight distance, that would make a splendid spectacle. The movements of this army would be regulated like those of the ballet in the opera. First would come the turn of the lamplighters of New Zealand and Australia. Having set their lamps alight, these would go off to sleep. Next, the lamplighters of China and Siberia would enter for their steps in the dance, and then they too would be waved back into the wings. After that would come the turn of the lamplighters of Russia and the Indies; then those of Africa and Europe; then those of South America; then those of South America; then those of North America. And never would they make a mistake in the order of their entry upon the stage. It would be magnificent.
Only the man who was in charge of the single lamp at the North Pole, and his colleague who was responsible for the single lamp at the South Pole–only these two would live free from toil and care: they would be busy twice a year.
I am sitting, this morning, watching two nests, two eagles, both sitting on two eggs, miles separating them…one in New Jersey, the other in Iowa. Today or tomorrow, chicks will emerge and the miracle of life will begin…the obstacles, the weather, the natural abilities to thwart and maneuver around all of the various hazards that will daunt the juveniles and then one day if they manage, find them as adult eagles. To watch live cameras would not be possible at one time in history. It is a wonder that I am able to enjoy this privilege and I do not take that lightly.
The nests have taught me much over the past five years. Moments at the nest have been both gratifying and horrifying. At one point, a chick, still like a wriggling worm with nothing but fuzz on its squirming body, managed to back out and under the tallest railings at the outside perimeter of the nest, and plummeted to the ground below, this after the tedious and daunting 35 days of incubation and the endless tending from both of its parents, once hatched. In another circumstance, at the Hornby Island nest, a chick was caught up in the talon of its own parent who could not free that helpless bird, and eventually, having to leave the nest for sustenance, returned without the little babe. This is how brutal life can be.
I have watched the spring birds, with amazement and horror this year. At my back yard feeder, I have watched dozens of male sparrows, harass and brutalize a single female. A loud raucous noise, screaming, the female batting her wings fast and furiously while the males peck one another, pushing into her body. She gets as close to the ground as she can, but they persist. She is allowed no where near the feeder either, as the males take positions of domination. I can only call these acts, in human terms, acts of rape and aggression. I have seen it again and again.
I have watched two male mallards gliding in the water alongside a female; the males looking magical…bright green iridescent head feathers, brilliant orange feet paddling them smoothly through the water; the females, much smaller and dull brown. Inevitably the wild shake of action and the loud forced honking sounds begin and the female lifts out of the water, one male furiously beating his wings a short distance at her back. They circle the pond, over and over again, the male in wild pursuit. The female is driven into exhaustion. The energy explodes at the pond, the other male seeming to care less of the goings on on the blue spring air.
The pond is edged in human plastic…the life of the pond is choked as it swallows up our branded cups and cutlery. One big plastic bag wraps itself around the bull rushes, the willow, the dogwood, the natural grasses and ties itself in a knot so that the pond can no longer breath. The prairie dogs drag the styrofoam chips into their tunnels, warm insulation for the coming winter, where in spring, their kittens will be born. The coyotes, the osprey, the herons, the field mice are all of no consequence.
At the pond, I am a witness and there are many lessons for me.
Sometimes, as a species, we believe that we are free of such traumas. There is a false sense that we are ‘apart’ and that even if all of this and these pass, we will go on. We do not believe, not really, that we are getting sick and that we are dying. We believe that if our water supply is gone, if our ice caps melt, if we cut down all of our forests and milk the earth dry of her minerals and her oil supply, that we will somehow be free of any great consequence. We do not believe that we have responsibility for any of the brutality that befalls the planet or other human beings. Until some hellish consequence befalls us, we are not really linked to our own mortality. As a people we become faithless, believing that religion radicalizes people and is the essence of all that fails us. Instead, humanity becomes disconnected from mother, source, creator, force, the divine, God…and aimlessly consumes like a rabid dog, everything and if it proves beneficial, every one.
The robust access to media and news, leads us to images that profoundly shock us. I can only post one example, but one can find similarly distressing visuals surrounding ALL species…the indiscriminate poaching of animals, the inhumane practices in the farming of animals that we consume, the over fishing of our oceans and the devastating harvesting of the fruits of the 140 million year old Borneo rain forests; these to name only a few of my present day concerns.
Our headlines tell the story of a radicalized world, one that expresses the insane reality of a humanity that casts away ‘the other’ and looks to fulfill an insatiable and personal/collective appetite for whatever serves to pleasure. At the same time as we preach equality and inclusion, we, who have so much, do little to provide for the basic human needs required for a basic existence in other parts of the world or in our own communities. At the same time that we profess inclusion, we feel the only way to live a satisfying life is to be disconnected from spiritual practice and religion, abhorring and publicly attacking those who have not chosen a similar path.
We have counseling for our own traumas and money to spend on frivolous things, but sometimes forget that the world over, children are struggling to care for dying parents and parents are holding dying children in their arms, most often as the result of the greedy intentions of others. (this is where people ask if I am driving a car…this is where I put my own comforts into question) We negotiate our way blindly through our lives, and think that there is no end to the luxury of it all.
It is not simply in nature that we see male dominance over the female gender. (and let us not forget the exceptions…I really don’t want to piss anyone off) Recent news has caused me to feel resentful, as I thoughtfully consider issues around narratives of domestic violence and rape. In 2016…it is a difficult thing to understand how humanity can take the position it does, one that continues to victimize the victim, one that can go so far as to mock. As a result of trauma, years later, a victim may hear, “Get over that victim-role!”
Best written by a smart friend of mine, one of those remarkable men in my life,
“It does not inspire confidence in our species that there is an epidemic of people (mostly men) who are so narcissistic that violation in pursuit of gratification is commonplace, with seemingly tacit acceptance.”
Refugees flee in desperation due to political and social turmoil and war, entire families absorbing the trauma of losing their lives as they knew them. Issues of exploitation of women, the impoverished, children; unemployment, a lack of affordable housing, homelessness, respect for people suffering debilitating disease and disabilities of every variety, respect for the dying…all matters of concern sometimes leading to brutal circumstances. It is all so overwhelming, that humanity becomes numb to the shear enormity of it all. For this suffering, the remedy seems to be to self medicate, whether that be in the depths of a screen, alcohol, drugs, sex, narcissism…experiencing life on the surface seems much better than feeling things deeply. It is easy to experience hopelessness.
Just recently, an inspiring priest in our parish, shared this talk. For me, Holy Thursday represents that moment where life flips from brutality to tenderness and the Easter Triduum, in its complete journey similarly encompasses both. I’ve always felt this way, it’s just that, this year, I feel like I need to articulate it somehow. These are desperate times.
I want to, therefore, return to the premise of this writing. And that is, that despite the brutality, there is such tenderness in this life and living. There is hope to be discovered in the quiet and profound intimacy of nature. For me, there is grace, also, to be found in a long and abiding journey of faith, in my case, in the context of the Catholic church. This journey has been marked by periods of gut wrenching pain, but anchored in an enduring personal determination, I negotiated through the darkness and into light.
Tenderness is to be discovered in the penetrating love of mothers. At the nest, unceasing and true to their instinctual calling, the mother remains a protector. And generally, so it is with our species.
At the nest, one sees the absolute and determined protective instincts of adults for their offspring. And within the human experience, we also see hearts that reach out in protection of others. A few true life examples that came to mind for me over my own Easter Triduum experience…the suffering…sacrifice…dying to self…service…community of support and love…resurrection and light…
Mark and Carmen Vazquez-Mackay have, for weeks now, along with their son, spent Sunday afternoons playing with Syrian children, newcomers to our big city. They have made an effort to allay fears and to show families who have escaped huge hostility in their own homeland, that they are welcomed and safe. I think that this is an expression of human tenderness.
SIRIAN LOVE report #3
Today’s group was small…only 7 kids around the age of 8. Many of the families are transitioning to their first homes in Canada, so they couldn’t participate. On our walk to the park, a few of the boys fought to be the ones who held my hand for the walk; I wish I had 6 hands this morning. One boy in particular was wanting much of my attention. He is definitely a leader who keeps all the boys in check. When we were leaving the park, he yelled “No, no, no” and refused to leave. Made me happy to know the positive effect Carmen and I are having, but sad that I can’t give him more time. It took 5 minutes to pry him off the playground. When I gave my departing high-fives to the kids, this boy followed it up by blowing me a kiss…sic
Wendy is the visionary who breathed life into create! create! in the East Village offers free, drop-in, inclusive creative programming to all residents of the East Village. Sessions run 4 times each week. The diverse group of people who gather and create and communicate with one another is such an absolute testament to the inclusive nature of humanity when the very best of love and concern shines through. There is nothing like it. To find yourself in a place where you are validated by the mere act of entering into the dance of creation is to be richly blessed and exemplifies what it means to receive tenderness.
Hollee, L’Arche Canada’s National Leader, supports the vision of Jean Vanier who has committed his lifetime and inspires others to care for and tend to the human heart, no matter how lonely or isolated that heart might be. L’Arche was founded in 1964 by Canadian humanitarian and social visionary, Jean Vanier. Distressed by the institutionalization and the isolation and loneliness of people with intellectual disabilities, Jean Vanier invited two men from an institution to live with him in a small house.
In L’Arche, people who have intellectual disabilities and those who come to assist share life and daytime activities together in family-like settings that are integrated into local neighbourhoods. L’Arche in Canada has nearly 200 homes and workshops or day programs. These are grouped into what L’Arche calls ”communities.” There are 29 communities of L’Arche located across Canada from Cape Breton to Vancouver Island. L’Arche communities are open and welcoming of neighbours and friends and often engage in various collaborations at the local level.
In a seeming brutal world, there are those who make the invitation to others to ‘belong’ regardless of differences and prejudices. It is possible to see the world with tenderness and to nurture her…all species…the land…the oceans and one another.
Given hours that I have spent in hospitals, sitting next to loved ones who are in pain or who are fading in health and life…I have seen the very worst and the very best of humanity. The tenderness and compassion that comes with Personal Support Workers and nursing staff, Daycare Workers and those who choose to lovingly care for our aging populations, women and men who are sometimes completely helpless and suffering with memory loss, is to be greatly commended. While in this lifetime, these responsibilities do not appear to be valued, these expressions of care and professionalism, are crucial to our healthy formation as a people. Bravo to those who choose patience and kindness and for environments that honour tenderness before productivity and quick delivery of service.
Blessed are those who advocate for our planet…those who research and study, observe and document, diligently fight for the humane treatment and protection of the myriad of species we share this planet with. Theirs is important work. There are countless individuals who take in stray animals and tend to their woundedness. There are organizations that take on very specialized mandates in protecting our forests, waterways and our resources. There are those who fight for the cause of other human beings who are struggling, in our city and globally.
Ramona, my high school bestie, has just returned from serving with the Peace Corp in Guyana and before that, Peru. Her photographs over these several years and her brief stories have sometimes made me cry; I am so proud of her service and her contribution to the education and well being of others. Ramona’s heart has always been filled with tenderness and sincere care for others. No time for ‘selfies’, this lady is captured in photographs in the ‘belly’ of life and living. I love her so much!
Sweet Christina, who I’ve watched grow from dream-filled teenager to smart creative woman, decided to take on a mission. She just decided she was going to do something meaningful and so readers discover, Slum Runners!
Slum Runners is a grassroots organization working toward the creation of sustainable community-run bases that address the widely unmet needs of: education, sanitation, access to clean drinking water and affordable food. We aim to develop access to these basic resources within urban slums.
One third of the world’s urban population lives in slums. This number is continuing to climb and the need for hubs providing these basic needs
are, and will be, both life enhancing and life saving.
Our project aims to develop a scalable model implementing natural design principles that incorporate traditional knowledge and modern-day innovation.
To date we envision robust earthen educational structures, rainwater harvesting, intensive urban food forestation and increased access to school supplies.
Our pilot project is scheduled to commence early in 2016 in the urban slum of Mukuru Kwa Ngenga, Nairobi, Kenya.
About this picture…
We started the Chinese year of the monkey with ZERO monkey business. Just dirty hands and straight faces!!! Today we dug our new small garden plot a foot deep into garbage, clay and actual boulders….that is the soil we have to work with 😳 BUT we did it! We’ve got a little lasagna bed starting. So proud of our growing environment club! Soon we’ll be ready to plant seeds. Oh! And when the kids came to class I asked them to get out all the compostable materials I had listed for them to bring and found 100’s of plastic straws mixed with mango peels and grass…I finally realised I had listed “hay/straw!” 😂😂😂
There is so much beauty and tenderness that rises out of the dark sludge of everything that ails…but, this post is becoming far too long. If you’ve pushed on through all of it…I’ll summarize my thoughts here.
I am, in walking a single pond environment every day, learning lessons about the intimate beauty of an ofttimes struggling world. I’m capturing hope and light in the bubble of my heart and going home with it.
This Easter journey was a beautiful thing…it not only exposed much about the world that is brutal, (suicide bombings, disintegrating glaciers, Yemen murders of 16 people, four of them five members of the Missionaries of Charity) but it brought to mind, everything that is glorious about life and peace (the tending and hatching of two eagle eggs over 37 days, the love shared between my children and my family members, my Dad, the laughter shared with students at school, my daily dog-walking and nature-watching). This is what living means…all of it. It is all by the grace of God.
Your thoughts and ideas are so beautifully written, Kath. Food for thought on this lovely Spring day in Kelowna. I walked through the bird sanctuary and saw ducks, turtles sunning themselves on a log, leaves budding on trees and flowers starting to bloom. Life is always in renewnal it seems, moving forward and this gives me hope, however fleeting, but hope all the same. Thank you for your sensitivy to our natural world and you are so right, it is all by the grace of God.
Kelowna is a beautiful spot…blessings for a lovely springtime, Karen and thank you for your reflection! Kath