Today the pianist and I went to a workshop on spiritual writing. One of the challenges we were given as a group was to write a short segment on either love or gratitude as a gift. I chose love. At 83 years of age I love the memories of which I am composed. They are a mental journal that allows a self -examination, serious or amusing, but always driven by love. What a joy it is if you confess that one of the things your love is, is for yourself. The Presbyterian part of me says, "Is that selfish?" I don't think so. It's taken me a long time to figure that out, or at least to admit it. If you love yourself, then it follows that you believe you are lovable. If you accept your own gift to yourself that you are truly lovable, you can, when as Leviticus 19 says "love your neighbor as yourself" , that is truly a lovable gift you give to your neighbor. It makes all the difference!
A sort of good article in today's Economist about feeble carbon trapping and global warming all as a result of our failure to vacuum up what co2 is already up there. Of course they never talk about the Boreal forest; its role in carbon trapping, and It seems to me that I never get to read about our Canadian Shield. Doesn't anyone know about this except Canadians? That piece of Precambrian rock that supports the second largest forest in the world comprising half the land mass of the country extending about 2 million square miles and add on 100 thousand square miles of Adirondacks, some of Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. The Boreal is close in size to the Amazon forest of 2.72 square million miles. The Shield will always be there, forest trapping carbon as usual as you can't plow Precambrian rock. And then again we have 20 percent of the world's fresh water, 7 percent of it renewable. Water that moves or can be made to move can make electricity which doesn't make carbon. We have a natural capacity, which is a blessing, to contribute to the trapping, sequestering and reduction of carbon. From the overleaf of the of the Illustrated Natural History of Canada , " Canadians are a Shield race.Their land forms the buttress of the continent and they live with this permanent reminder of the elemental process. They live with bedrock and bush and a million hidden lakes always at their backs They live with a greedy secret of riches.They live with the terrifying Boreal, god of the cold void. The Shield is bedrock, the primal stuff. This is one of the things a Canadian knows---without perhaps even knowing he knows it." Lucky us, lucky world, everyone should shape up.
A few years back I volunteered to interview putative medical students applying to UBC that had exceeded the mark threshold and were short listed to be evaluated for character. I guess I had assumed that I was capable of assessing character, a supposition that was at best, tenuous. I had an eye-opener. Candidates were obviously highly intelligent, motivated and aware after the first hour of interviews what the topics were going to be. They virtually all had prior post-graduate science degrees and demonstrated a history of volunteerism for charitable commitments that would reflect that their caring attitude would signify a potential good and caring doctor. I was incredibly impressed with their character and their cunning. But, and there is always a but, when asked what they had read of literature, history or humanities, culture or become engaged in that sort of activity the response was spare to absent. I had the intuition that we had forced our cream of the crop to neglect the breadth of humanness in the interest of marks and technology. Not that it reflects badly on them because they will be good, but there is a difference between good and great. I hope once the career is established and time has elapsed, that care of the soul, whatever that is, for its own sake, and the breadth of humanness will be the chosen path.
A dozen or so of us met every Thursday for 13 or so years with John who taught us how to read. John had taught Middle English literature at Simon Fraser for years and we spent our time reading together and analyzing Webster, Spenser, Shakespeare, Chaucer and so on. We never got good enough to cope with the vernacular of the time but the translations were challenge enough. The fact that we all brought prior degrees to the tutorials cut no ice. We still needed to learn how to read. John was Socratic so I always felt safe. When one sees the voice on the page we spoke what we heard. Seeing and hearing in cahoots, mediated by the second and eighth cranial nerves allows one to reproduce the voice. Learning to read is not a throwaway line. If you want to write you better learn to read. We have a writing workshop coming up and I am looking forward to what Lorraine has to say. It's all good.
Tomorrow is Remembrance Day! My feeble experience was never to be. In 1994 the civil war in Bosnia between the factions of the Yugoslavians was at a height and thousands were dying, my friends John, an anaesthetist and David, a plastic surgeon went off to Sarajevo with Medicines sans Frontieres to work for a period of time in the fray. John visited me for lunch when he returned and we talked. I thought about it briefly and phoned the nurse-coordinater in Toronto for MSF and she said an orthopedic surgeon would be valuable and agreed to sign me on. The pianist and I went for supper and I told her what I was going to do but I was pressed to know why. I guess it was because John was so enthused with his own experience and I wanted a taste of the same. A family member of mine who was a military policeman and army officer in the Middle East told me that I was too old to go and my plan was silly. He said, "You are sixty years old and it's a war zone. You can't run on a road with pothole craters from explosives and carry a hundred pound pack and if there is conflict when you are in the operating room no-one is going to help you get out. You'll be on your own. " It may be that what might appear to be altruistic was a fraud on my part but my age and lack of fleet of foot was anything but fraudulent. The pianist had the good sense to let the matter drop as a momentary loss of reality and a return to reason. I can remember tomorrow and lament the loss of the young, tomorrow and every day, and be grateful for those who do work to care for the injured in hospitals where there is war. But it wouldn't be helpful to get in their way. I guess it is still true that your young men will have visions ; your old men will dream dreams.
I wrote of Thucydides last week who observed that right solutions can only come with disputants of equal power. My brother implied I was like the 90 pound weakling lying on the beach with my Softwood Lumber Girlfriend, and Donald Trump (alias Charles Atlas), the muscular bully, kicking sand in my eye. I don't really mind being conflated with Canada, or Thucydides but not the 90 pound weakling. My youngest brother phoned him up and scolded him which gave me some pleasure. The fact that Thucydides may be usually right is a challenge for our country that sand not be kicked in our eye and that power does not come exclusively from having the most Triremes in the water.
Thucydides notes that the right solution can only be achieved by those that are equal in power. The corollary in the quote is " ----that the strong do what they can, the weak do what they must." He must have believed that in the pursuit of self interest there was little or no place for a balance that addressed the self interest of the other. Since he was a general and a politician he saw the "other" as an opponent. If we, as the "weak other", will do as we must, can we succeed by inventiveness, persuasion and good will? Not likely and we shouldn't blame those negotiating for us. Those characteristics are however honorable and will serve as modifiers. We should not forget that the "strong" are struggling with the headstrong at the present time and have to somehow save themselves. It's not really a good time to negotiate. I'm sure Thucydides is right.
For Jim's past posts, check out his old blog here: