January 20, 2017 to be designated as
International Turn Off Day.
Yes, at exactly 9:00am Washington D.C. time zone, all Canadians and Americans who believe in Truth, Justice, and the Way of the Peaceful Warrior are going to turn off their TV sets, their cell phones, their iPads and computers, and take a walk with a friend / a loved one in the great outdoors. We are going to ensure that the inauguration of the 45th president of the united hates of america will achieve the lowest ratings in television history.
Having watched the outgoing President’s farewell address, his honouring of his friend and Vice-President, his salute to his staff in CNNs “The End: the final days of the Obama administration (“It’s not about me – it’s about the team.”), and having seen the intelligence and class with which he and his family have carried themselves in this most difficult of times, we salute you by turning off our “black mirrors” and stepping out to the sun, the clouds, the snow, the rain, the wind.
As my son Will said watching as The President prepared to leave office, “It is going to be a long four years.” Let us remember our better selves, that the Twit Who Would Tweet is but a brief journey to the dark side of The Force, and that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.
Skid Crease, Caledon
You know, there are just some times when I hate being right.
It happened la few weeks ago at a popular fast food and coffee spot in Caledon. Now, keep in mind, that as a storyteller and author, I love to observe people, join in on their conversations, and get to know their stories. Every once in a while you meet an elder, the kind we are taught to respect and honour. I have found them in some of the scientists, artists and authors, spiritual mentors, systems thinking engineers, and educators with whom I have had the privilege of knowing. I have equally found them in farmers, hunters and trappers who, contrary to popular belief, deeply love the land from which they gather our food, and they pass on those wisdoms quietly and firmly with few words.
I also meet the synapically challenged, whose uneducated opinions are largely formed by the bogus untruth websites and the kind of “big boys” locker room talk that provided the fodder for a narcissistic megalomaniac to become President-Elect in the U.S.A.
Ideally we all try to see the best in others, accept other people on their individual merits, and avoid stereotyping. But every once in a while we fall into the trap.
So, when I saw a group of four older men, who are always sitting at the same table, having coffee, pontificating their views on the world, and hoarding a stack of free newspapers, I couldn’t resist. My first reaction in observing them (and picking up on snippets of conversation) was: white old boys club, maybe high school education, read the Sun newspaper mainly to ogle the Sunshine Girl, vote Conservative, watch Fox news, listen to right wing radio talk shows, and think Donald Trump is the Second Coming. I wanted to be wrong.
I walked right over, sat down at their table and said, “Gentlemen, I’d like to join your table.” A chill spread through the group. I had violated their sanctum sanctorum, but I just sat right down and introduced myself. There was a younger man with them that day, the only one among us who wasn’t retired.
They ducked out for a quick smoke break, and when they returned the fun began. The older man, who had retired from something when he was only forty-five, began a long rant on the glory that was Donald Trump and the horror that was Barack Obama. I had no idea, until I listened to his holy words, that Obama was responsible for every disaster from hurricanes to floods to the financial crisis that pre-dated his presidency. Nor had I realized the extent of the terrible scandals that Barack and Michelle hid away during their eight years in the White House.
The younger man tried to explain that the U.S. economy was on the upswing, like employment figures and growth expectations, but he just couldn’t get a word in edgewise. The older man was in that zone where, as my mother used to say, “Don’t confuse me with facts; my mind is made up!”
Now, our elder couldn’t name any legitimate sources for his research, but that didn’t stop him from believing in nonsense and passing it on. The earth is flat, the sun revolves around us, and the planet is only 6000 years old. And I thought all the dinosaurs were extinct. My worst fears were confirmed. I came, I stereotyped, I was right.
As children we are taught to respect our elders. Their years on Earth have supposedly given them insights into life. They made all the mistakes that the passion of youth demands, learned from those mistakes, and grew in wisdom and vision. At least, that is what the best of our elders bring to their communities. And some of our “elders” are young in years but born with old souls.
I have had the privilege ever the years, through my work in Global, Environmental and Outdoor Education, to work with some of those elders from various Ministries and Boards of Education, from businessmen and farmers, from truck drivers and mechanics, and especially from my father.
I have also been blessed by learning with elders of the First Nations from Manitoulin Island,, Brantford Six Nations, Inuit hunters in Nunavut, and the Mississaugas of New Credit. During those times I developed an even deeper respect for their wisdoms and their stories. They have survived the lies of broken treaties, forced relocations, the horrors of smallpox and missionaries, the deliberate culling of their independent transportation system when the RCMP nearly wiped out the entire breed of Canadian Eskimo Dogs, and the holy evil of the residential schools.
What doesn’t destroy your culture makes you stronger and wiser if you survive. Hopefully those elders will be able to guide the next generation through their Vision Quests to find the talents and gifts they can bring back to their communities. Children desperately need those positive elders in their lives. Those wise and humble elders give us hope.
But when I encounter elders like the ones I sat with briefly at the restaurant a few weeks ago, it makes me fear for our future. The greatest danger facing humanity is not accelerating climate change, or a nuclear winter. It is the ignorance of the elders who may lead us there.
A long time ago I saw a poster of a very overweight man. sitting at an elegant table that was covered with crystal glasses and fine china. He was dressed in a fancy dinner jacket, sitting with hands holding a fork and knife raised over his plate. But then I saw that on the plate in front of him was a steaming pile of manure. The caption underneath read: “Eat excrement. 10 million flies can’t be wrong.” Choose your elders wisely.
Like young Anthony who, in busy line-up at a gas bar later that same morning, calmed down an impatient older man with the words: “Life is short – don’t rush it. We’re all going to get to the end sooner or later.” Now that is wisdom.
Skid Crease, Caledon
It took heart failure and a stroke to reaffirm my suspicions that men are essentially stupid, and intelligent women should be running the world. My wife had seen the signs building long before the state of my health reached emergency proportions. How many men have heard their loving partners say, “Have you seen your doctor lately?” or “I think you need to go for a check-up.” Men dismiss these early warnings as an assault on their invulnerability. And an only child male, supremely independent as I am, is even more difficult to advise.
When I finally said, “I think I need to go to the doctor,” it was almost too late. The only things open were the hospital Emergency wards. The first one we went to admitted me immediately into cardiac care. At 3:00 am the next morning, they called my wife to gather our family together to come down and say their goodbyes. It was that close.
When I shocked everyone by reviving, they sent me by ambulance to the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre at Toronto General Hospital where I spent the next 28 days. For the first two weeks, I was bed-ridden in Intensive Care with tubes on IV drips coming out of both arms and a plethora of chest stickers wired to monitors. Then I graduated to the care of the Cardiac team, who spent the next two weeks monitoring my cocktail of heart medications. They got me out of bed and walking the corridors, stressing the need to get mobile and begin mild exercise every day – slow and steady.
When the team finally determined that the blood clots had cleared from my heart and lungs, they shocked my heart to stop and then shocked it to start again, When I woke up (to the smell of burning chest hair), they told me that my heart was back in regular sinus rhythm. Best news ever! No transplant, no artificial heart, no more excessively rapid atrial fibrillation. A few days later I was cleared to go home.
My wonderful, exhausted wife, who had spent the entire month of August driving back and forth from Caledon to Toronto General, looked at me and said, “The Phoenix, rising from the ashes. You’ve been given a second chance.” Now I had to earn it.
The primary culprit in this health decline was stress. Stress over financial concerns that I had been trying to deal with by myself, and fighting a losing battle. I wonder how many other retired, economically illiterate males fall into the same category, hiding their weaknesses and becoming more isolated day by day. According to recent news reports, quite a few. There are an increasing number of retirees and seniors falling into high debt. With that must come the stress of trying to successsfully meet all of the needs of our families, and realizing we are falling short, My advice to all stubborn senior males is to share the burden with your loved ones, work out the solutions together, as we are doing now, and get rid of the depression. I am certain that there is a direct link between an overload of the stress hormone, cortisol, and heart failure. It is not worth preserving the myth of male omnipotence. Find humility.
And listen to our partners when they tell you you’re not looking so well. They may, after all, be just a little more perceptive than we are.
Skid Crease, Caledon
Frame: several ethnically diverse citizens around a desk …
Oriental Citizen: Really, who is this Stephen?
African American Citizen: Well, it’s pretty sketchy – he seems to have made some very bad judgement calls on people he has appointed.
European Citizen: Yeah, the RCMP are investigating them! And what’s with this $90,000 cheque that came out of his office. He claims he didn’t know about it.
Middle Eastern Citizen: Well, that’s unbelievable. Apparently the guy is a micromanager – that’s not good.
Israeli Citizen: Well, he has promised to save us from IS/IS/IL and Palestine and Putin…
Scandanavian Citizen: We lose more people to cancer and car accidents than to wacko extremists – he’s way off base. How about taking care of our veterans first!
Australasian Citizen: And look at the record – the environment and economy in decline – no climate change policies and tax breaks for the richest. What about the rest of us?
Aboriginal Citizen: Exactly. Remember that he killed the Kelowna Accord. And Kyoto. And National Child Care.
South American Citizen: Well, it’s pretty clear he’s just not up for the job.
Central American Citizen: Yeah, but check out the picture – nice hair.
Youth Citizen: Is that hair?
The hockey and radio ad I’d really like to see and hear… constantly.
Skid Crease, Caledon