Simple things

traci, cleverley, pink, frame, lifespan, memoriam

What matters is how we live and love

And how we spend our dash.

~ Linda Ellis

43 years ago today, Traci’s “dash” began.

If you haven’t read it, or heard it, The Dash is a famous poem by Linda Ellis which encourages us all to remember what will matter most when our lives come to an end. Ellis asks on her website that the poem not be reproduced elsewhere, but instead, invites anyone who wants to share it link to her website which reproduces the poem in full. So go ahead, if you haven’t already, click on the link and read The Dash.

red_roses_wallpaper_31da4

Reading this poem, which I remembered hearing for the first time a few years ago, it struck me that Traci lived much of what this poem talks about during her “dash”. No, she wasn’t perfect, but she tried to live well. She did not obsess about material things. She became a valued friend to many due to her listening skill, empathy, and compassion. She strove to be positive even when life’s circumstances made it very difficult. And she especially learned how to “be less quick to anger, and show appreciation more, and love the people in [her] life like [she’d] never loved before.” In short, she learned to love the simple things in life, and to always take the time to stop and smell the roses.

Traci, woman, roses, winter

Through today’s post, which some might interpret as me idealizing the past or hanging on to a love which can no longer be returned, I merely hope that Traci’s example encourages us to pause and ponder what we are doing with our lives. What kind of legacy are we leaving for our loved ones? How will they remember us? Will the memories be sweet, or will they be tinged with bitterness for the lessons we failed to learn, the hurts we never forgave or asked forgiveness for, the losses we couldn’t move past? Are we taking care to listen? Are we first seeking to understand, before pushing to be understood?

I won’t apologize for continuing to think of Traci, especially on the days which seem the most significant, and today, her birthday, is definitely one of those. She continues to inspire me, and remind me not only of the many, many good times we shared, but also how to find happiness even in the midst of stress, exhaustion, and frustration.

Her “dash” ended far too soon, but in a way, it continues. I take great comfort in knowing that she continues to “shine on” in many people’s hearts, and is teaching them to treasure the simple things in life – in short, to live their “dash” well.

Another year has passed, and once again, I find myself saying the only prayer that truly matters: Thank you.

mutts, thank you, cartoon, comic strip, meister eckhartRelated posts:

 

Freedom of speech

rally, paris, 2015, demonstration, je suis charlie

Hundreds of thousands take part in a solidarity march (Marche Republicaine) in the streets of Paris January 11, 2015. Photo: Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” ~ S. G. Tallentyre (not Voltaire, though inspired by and often attributed to him)

The appalling attack by gunmen on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris, including the brutal killing of an injured Muslim police officer, shocked the world and led to protests, political rhetoric, journalistic hand-wringing, and some truly bizarre responses. The spectacle of heads of state of some of the most repressive and anti-free press regimes “leading” (um, not really) a demonstration for freedom of the press last weekend in Paris must be one of the oddest and most opportunistic moments ever staged for global media.

Like the recent should-we or shouldn’t-we debate over the release of the latest Rogen-Goldberg-Franco joint The Interview, discussion over the Charlie Hebdo incident shows that the line between satire and opinion on one side, and hate speech on the other, is ever-shifting. Though I am as shocked and angry about the slaying of journalists simply because their words and/or pictures offend someone’s religion, I must say I am thoroughly fascinated by the discussion about appropriate cultural or editorial limits to free speech.

Charlie Hebdo‘s no-holds-barred, don’t-care-who-we-offend editorial philosophy, as a Toronto Star op-ed column recently stated, would simply not fly in Canada, where we are all so gosh-darned polite to one another (or at least that’s the national myth we all like to perpetuate … and if I offend anyone by suggesting that it is a myth, well, I’m sorry). The newspaper decided not to publish the offensive cartoons not out of fear of reprisals, so the commentator says, but out of respect for its readership, many of whom are Muslim. “It is not the Canadian thing to do.” (Yes, he really wrote that!) Many readers accuse the Star and other media outlets of cowardice for not running any of the images which have caused offence, not only to Muslims but people of other faiths as well (particularly Judaism and Christianity). In my opinion it isn’t cowardice but consideration of the potential financial fallout from cancelled ads and subscriptions which keeps the mainstream media from publishing the cartoons – even if they paint their rationale in maple leaf red.

I’ve read that Charlie Hebdo dispersed barbs equally sharp against the three Abrahamic faiths, but if true this still ignores the historic context that makes the newspaper’s satirical attacks on Islam particularly egregious. Algerians, and French Algerians, haven’t forgotten the horror of France’s barbarous campaign against Algerian independence in the mid-twentieth century. As Robert Fisk pointed out recently in The Independent, the Algerian gunmen “were born at a time when Algeria had been invisibly mutilated by 132 years of occupation.” While this doesn’t justify the attack – nothing could – it does, combined with the Islamophobic climate that, unfortunately, prevails in France, help to explain where the gunmen’s motivation stemmed from.

Many people may feel, as I do, that simply critiquing a religion or other widely-held belief, whether through satirical cartoons, dramatic films, literature, or any other form, does not in itself constitute hate speech. Blasphemy is only blasphemy to those who believe in that faith, and as such is nearly always subjective. But when produced with the intent to provoke people of a certain faith or cultural background, one that is already an oppressed minority in a cosmopolitan society, some backlash is inevitable. The line between cultural criticism and hate speech gets ever more blurred when the people being targeted have endured years of prejudice, violence, and hatred just for where they come from or for looking or thinking as they do.

Whether we choose not to offend out of respect for a religion, because it isn’t “the Canadian thing to do”, or simply out of kindness and respect for our fellow human beings, is not the point. It’s to what limits will our tolerance for people who are different from the majority extend. Will we shake the hands of our fellow Canadians, or Americans, or French, seek to understand them better, and strive for equality? Will the more radical among an oppressed group not be reduced to a historical footnote if we embrace those who are tolerant and wish to live in peace? I don’t know the answer to that question, but it seems to me, it’s worth a try.

Setting forth

river, Sydenham, owen sound, winter, new year, snowBeginning a new year is like setting out on a journey.

Most journeys begin with a definite destination in mind. Some travels are more of the rambling kind. Both have their value, and both can be enjoyable. The purposeful journey may be satisfying in its efficiency and feeling of accomplishment, whether it’s a trip to the grocery store or hiking to the peak of a mountain. But the rambling journey carries its own reward, even if it also may carry a greater degree of risk, because one may be unaware of the hazards, pitfalls, and dead ends along the way.

When one looks back at a journey, or a year, if there was a goal or intention set at the beginning which came to fruition, one feels that sense of satisfaction I mentioned above. When a goal isn’t reached, there can be disappointment, even anger with oneself which over time, added to previous failures, can become debilitating.

I think it’s important to set realistic goals and to act throughout the journey, or the year, with the intention of accomplishing those goals. To not just make vague “resolutions” destined to be consigned to the mental waste bin of previously unresolved resolutions, but to actually follow through consciously with putting words into action.

So for the year ahead, though I’m sure there will be many rambles along the way, leading to new and unexpected encounters and destinations, I am also setting a few goals. Of course, some journeys have multiple destinations, and some goals take several years or more to carry out.

For instance, the goal I consider my most important is a five-year aim to be completely debt-free. So for 2015, my actions need to support that goal, beginning with paying down my consumer debt every month, avoiding over-spending, and finding other streams of income besides my job.

Another goal for 2015 is to bring exercise and meditation back into my schedule. I have grown complacent, and it shows.

I am also setting a couple of intentions with my writing. One is to publish at least one new blog post a week. The other is to launch a new, less personal and more topical blog by springtime. Don’t worry, the Rambler will still be here when that happens.

Most importantly, and this is more of an intention than a specific, measurable goal, is to live as authentically as possible. Not that I haven’t been doing that, but sometimes my needs and pleasures take a back seat to other people’s, and I need to remind myself that I’m important too. I am pleased that in a couple of weeks I’ll be hosting a meditative music and rhythm jam at my apartment. Making music with others is a treasured experience for me and I would like it to occupy a bigger place in my life again.

The most important aspect of any goal is the intention to follow through. So whatever your goals or intentions are for the year ahead, be sure to follow Captain Picard’s advice:

Picard new year wish 2015

 

Changing the conversation

december 6, sonia pelletier, chris wattie, violence against women

                                                                           Photo: Chris Wattie/ Reuters

On Saturday, December 6, 2014, women, children, and men gathered across Canada in a national day of remembrance and action on violence against women. It was 25 years from the day a lone gunman stormed L’École Polytechnique in Montreal, separated the women from the men, and killed 14 women simply because they were women.

The Toronto Star ran an excellent article about the commemoration, including interviews with two women who were on the killer’s hit list, but avoided harm on that fateful day. You can read that article and see a video about the event here.

Here in Owen Sound, a small group gathered outside the Farmers Market to “remember, reflect, and re-think.” You can read a summary of the Owen Sound event here.

I have been attending events like these since the very first vigils held after the massacre in 1989, first in Vancouver, then in Toronto, and in recent years, in Owen Sound. Recent accounts of previously unreported sexual assaults in Canada’s national parliament, and as attributed to celebrities such as Canadian radio host Jian Ghomeshi and the actor Bill Cosby, have shaken me out of my complacency somewhat and reminded me that it isn’t enough to just be a decent man. There is a conversation going on in this country and around the world, and the question is being asked of men, what are we saying to other men to stop violence against women?

Four men in our community were asked to speak to that question at the vigil on Saturday. I found the remarks of one man particularly cogent and moving. With his permission, I am reproducing his remarks here, very slightly edited for the sake of context.

My thanks to Sergeant Ted Kitto of the Owen Sound Police Service for bravely sharing his insightful remarks through this forum. He started with a look at song lyrics and popular culture through the past half century, starting with appalling lyrics from a very surprising source:

I’d rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man,

You’d better keep your head little girl or I won’t know where I am,

Let this be a sermon, I mean everything I’ve said,

Baby I’m determined and I’d rather see you dead.

Run for Your Life (1965), by John Lennon

Let’s fast forward 20 years to see if lyrics depicting violence against women continues:

I used to love her, but I had to kill her,

I had to put her, 6 feet under,

And I can still hear her complain

She bitched so much, she drove me nuts,

And now I’m happier this way.

(I Used to Love Her, but I Had to Kill Her, performed by Guns & Roses – 1988)

Oh my goodness…So let’s fast forward another 20+ years. The millions of lyrics referring to women as “ho’s”, “bitches”, etc., is sickening.

Which brings us to the present day. I check out the fastest selling entertainment product of all time – a Video Game called Grand Theft Auto. Donald Trump is a major investor.

The game’s goal is to steal cars, wreak havoc on highways, and be violent. The lead characters are all men – no women. Women are portrayed as “strippers to throw money at” and “prostitutes to picked-up”. They have SKANK tattooed across their backs. I ask myself, “Don’t the gamers feel dirty…don’t they feel wretched when this game coerces them to fondle a stripper…to degrade women…to normalize such an awful reflection into the real world?? Apparently not: Gaming critics and gamers applaud this game with a 98% high satisfaction rating. I remind you: it is the fastest selling entertainment product of ALL TIME. (which just goes to prove how far we still have to go to achieve a world of gender equality – ed.)

When I see men and male teenagers duplicating the female degradation in popular media, I’m sad to say, “It comes as no surprise”. After all, look what they’re watching, playing and listening to. We all know the difference between right and wrong, so why do we allow ourselves, our sons and daughters, to be negatively influenced through such media?

Today, I’m speaking to you as a middle-aged man who has seen life through a police officer’s eyes for the last 28 years. I’ve seen women become victims of domestic related homicide, sexual assault, assault, threats, and the use of sheer and utter terror as a way to control women. It’s horrifying that the majority of these crimes are too often committed by the persons a woman should trust the most: husbands, former husbands, boyfriends, and dating partners.  I’ve spoken to the mothers and the fathers of the disappeared, I’ve seen their tears, and in a few cases, I still carry the ghosts of the disappeared in me. Even if this happened only once, it’s one time too many.

In 1973 John Lennon declared “Run For Your Life” as the worst Beatles song ever, and he deplored the fact the he wrote those lyrics. John Lennon grew to respect and love women, as evidenced in the 80’s with his lyrics:

Woman, I can hardly express

My mixed emotions at my thoughtlessness,

After all, I’m forever in your debt.

And woman, I will try to express,

My inner feelings and thankfulness,

For showing me the meaning of success,

I love you, I love you…

“Woman” by John Lennon (1980)

So what am I, as an individual, going to say to men to stop violence against women?

  1. MEN, LISTEN UP! THIS IS IN NO WAY UPLIFTING or EMPOWERING. Don’t encourage violence and aggression against women. Encourage loving and healthy relationships.
  2. Turning intolerable, inappropriate media into real-life behaviours, IS NOT ACCEPTABLE.
  3. Aggrandizing and uplifting the male identity – your identity – so you can “take charge” of your woman is UNACCEPTABLE. That behaviour is NOT being a man.
  4. Be a good Dad. Keep your children away from such deplorable and dehumanizing entertainment. It’s your job to never ever demonstrate deplorable and dehumanizing behaviours to your loved ones, or in front of your loved…or strangers. It’s your duty!

Again, my thanks to Sgt. Ted Kitto for sharing his insights through this blog post.

And now, since Ted cited the lyrics to this song in his remarks, and to reflect on another shocking act of violence which forever changed the cultural landscape on this date, December 8, 1980, let’s pause to remember the man himself, John Lennon, with his song of female empowerment, equality, and love.

 

Rambles by the river

river, sydenham, owen sound, reflection, autumn, leaves, water

The river is a healer
The river is a sage
The river knows no ending
The river knows no age

The river is a leader
Every single day
It’s living in the moment
And it always finds a way

Water heal my body
Water heal my soul
When I go down down to the water
By the water I feel whole

Words & music © 2014 Coco Love Alcorn

 

There are so many reasons why I love where I’m living right now.

My apartment is spacious and bright and close to most of the places I frequent. One of the best things about its location is that even though I live in the heart of downtown, in under two blocks I can walk to the riverside and see the scene in the photographs above and below. This is where I like to ramble, and I go there almost every day with Shadow. (Dog owners: aren’t our pets a magnificent excuse for us to get daily exercise, fresh air, and if we’re lucky, commune with nature?)

I have taken photographs from about the same viewpoint throughout four seasons over the past year, and it’s time to post them. I make no claims to any photographic ability. These were all taken with my camera phone and with a couple of them it looks like my lens might have been smudged. Where a photo stands out (like the one above, from October 12), it’s because nature provided the perfect conditions at that moment.

I’ve arranged the photographs in chronological order. It amazes me, how much this one point on the river changes, not just from season to season, but even from day to day, especially in the winter. It reminds me of a line from an old Genesis song, “The sands of time were eroded by, The river of constant change.”

Very recently, my friend Coco Love Alcorn shot and posted a video of her new song “The River“, and I thought it would make a nice addition to this post. More than an addition: her lyrics – which I quoted an excerpt from above – describe the feeling I have when I go down to the river. What is it about standing by the water’s edge and feeling at peace? Does the current carry our worries and doubts away? I think it does.

The riverside is frequented by people fishing during much of the spring and fall; you can see them in the distance in a few of my photos. And Shadow shows up in a few too.

And now, introducing my new companion, the River Sydenham:

 
Thanks again to Coco for her inspirational song, once again demonstrating the power of music for healing and grace. I’m embedding it here for anyone who didn’t make the jump at the link above, or who wants to hear it again:
 

You’re not alone

 

Traci in frame for websiteGrief can be a slow ache that never seems to stop rising, yet as we grieve, those we love mysteriously become more and more a part of who we are. ~ Mark Nepo 

Today’s post was originally published, with the same title, on December 10, 2012. I decided to re-publish it today, on the three-year anniversary of Traci’s death, after a friend who is also a widow reminded me once again, “You’re not alone.” It feels like an important message to share with those who grieve.

I’d like to once again thank Sarah Slean, whose incredible song helped pull me through a very difficult time at the beginning of all this. With the lyrics for this song, I believe she touches on something beyond than our earthly existence. I can’t say what her original inspiration was, but these lyrics transcend the personal and convey a universal meaning that will speak to all who have lost someone special, or who know there is more to life than what we perceive with our physical senses.

It’s sometimes best if we don’t try to label or explain when we feel the presence of something numinous, or non-material. Some say that this presence is a product of our own brain waves, helping to restore a balance. Some believe it’s the spirit of our loved ones, letting us know they are watching over us. I’m not going to try and define it. Everyone has their own interpretation of Presence, whether it follows traditional doctrine or not. This is how it should be. I just hope that those who need it, feel it, and that it helps with whatever they are struggling with.

The original post follows below. It’s my interpretive response to Sarah’s lyrics. If the use of the feminine pronoun doesn’t work for you, feel free to switch it for the masculine, neuter, or even plural pronoun.

The song is shared here with a static video. If you would like to see the slideshow tribute to Traci with this song as its soundtrack, click here.


This is for those who grieve, who feel the bottom has dropped out of their world, the heartbroken and the despondent. Take courage, my friends. You are not alone. 

“You’re Not Alone” words and music (c) 2011 by Sarah Slean

endeavour to go into it
until a sign appears
don’t be afraid of anything
you are guided

You are guided by a presence that encompasses all. In that presence, the voice of your beloved reaches through to comfort you, even through your tears and sorrow. She will be with you, whenever you need her to be. Not as she was – for that can never be – but as a part of the light, and a part of you, forever.

it will never be as we imagine it
unless we imagine it to be

The future is in your hands and in your mind. Picture how you wish things to be, not as they once could have been, but how they could be now when you sense the universe inside of you, and the unfolding of possibility from which all creation springs.

I wonder where you are now
I hear you calling me

She is calling you, to let you know that it will be all right. Let her go, set her free, the oneness is calling her …

I’m telling you you’re not alone
a kind of light flows through it all

She can feel what you can not, until you allow it and open to it. The light that flows through everything, unites her and you, your loved ones gone before and here now, your loved ones still to come. All are one in the light. There is no past, no future, only now.

I hear a voice inside my own
like a waking dream
no you’re not alone

Her voice comes through yours, in the words that flow from your mouth and from your heart. You can not help but take courage and strength from the inspiration she provides. You will almost feel as though another you is emerging from the darkness, and taking shape in the light.

you cannot see or listen to
the very heart of life
it isn’t there, then suddenly
you feel it

It is very hard to see or feel the light when the darkness has descended on you. Yet, whether you perceive it or not, that light is always there, eternal. It is the very heart of life that beats in us all. Maybe all you need to do to find peace is to sit in stillness. Don’t go looking for the light; wait for it to come to you. Hear through the silence the pulse of life, and be grateful for it.

going no direction it is everywhere
knowing every word it makes no sound
I was no believer
but I am certain now

It is a paradox. How can something be there and not-there at the same time? It is your sitting with darkness which calls forth the light. It is your sitting with silence which brings forth the voice. She is with you because you have opened yourself to her, and when you feel her you will know, you will be certain …

certain that we’re not alone
a kind of light flows through it all
I hear a voice inside my own
like a waking dream
no you’re not alone

Is this really happening? or is it all just happening inside my head? Of course it’s happening inside your head, but why should that mean it isn’t really happening? You are your perceptions: admit and accept them.

there isn’t time for anything but mercy
everything is giving birth to everything

All that was, all that is, all that will be, is here now. Every moment you lived with her, is here now, and amazing, beautiful new things are emerging from that union inside of you, inside the heart of the universe.

nothing in the world is as it seems
light upon the water,
that is the light in me

Now you’re getting it. Transcending grief is never easy. You are forced into such a desperate, lonely place, where you feel the walls crushing in on you. But then an unexpected mercy appears, a light fracture of hopefulness, and in that mere moment of grace, an entire life emerges. You emerge, whole and complete. Now, in this moment, you honour your beloved by saying Yes to life.

and it’s telling me you’re not alone
a kind of light flows through it all
I hear a voice inside my own
like a waking dream
and no you’re not alone

Whenever you feel the darkness descending again, when you feel lost and alone, don’t fear it. Simply accept it, feel it, allow it to be, and sit.

Sit and wait for the light.

9154-birth-of-a-star

Related posts:

Ordinary day

Yesterday’s post felt like a bit of a downer, though it generated a lovely response from a few readers. Thank you to everyone who commented; if there is one purpose that “the return of the Rambler” might serve, it’s to help someone who is struggling after loss gain a new perspective and feel hopeful for the future.

Because, after all, as Alan Doyle and the GBS crew sing,

In this beautiful life, there’s always some sorrow
It’s a double-edged knife, but there’s always tomorrow
It’s up to you now if you sink or swim,
Keep the faith and your ship will come in.
It’s not so bad.

Great Big Sea was one of Traci’s favourite bands, by the way. Listening to this song now, it’s as if I can hear her whispering in my ear, “Cheer up, my love. It’s not so bad. Stay positive, and appreciate what you have.”

I will, and I do.

It’s just another, ordinary day. One more day to live, one more day to love, one more day to keep the faith alive.

Hit it, boys:

One thousand and ninety-six days

flag, Ontario, half-mast, island, dock, Georgian Bay

It’s been three years to the day

Since I held you in my arms

There at the dockside

On your way back to the island where you worked.

We thought you’d be gone for ten days

Ten days, we thought, that’s a long time

So we hugged and kissed a little extra tender and long

We kissed and said “I love you” to each other

Then off you went.

Little did we know it was for the last time.

Three days later you left on your final journey.

This is grief, three years in.

Now, I am happy more often than sad.

I have loved another. I have begun to dig myself out from under. I can see the path ahead more clearly. I spend less time looking through the rear view window.

Perhaps it’s that desire to keep looking ahead rather than back which is the main reason I haven’t been writing. This feels self-indulgent now, and I wonder why anyone would want to read it.

I am less “compelled to create” and driven more by a sense of duty. Yet I am hoping to get back in motion and start writing regularly again, if only to help maintain some equilibrium and perspective. It might be self-indulgent, but at least it’s real.

As real as that final hug and kiss, three years ago. Oh, I miss her so.

traci, doug, woman, man, kiss, river, snow

Start Wearing Purple – It’s Purple Day

Purple Day Cover

I wanted people around the world to come together and teach others about epilepsy. ~ Cassidy Megan, founder of Purple Day 

All over the world today, people are wearing purple and holding events for epilepsy awareness. I salute those who are doing so much, including my friends at SUDEP Aware whose compilation, published last year, highlights what the day means to families bereaved by epilepsy.

My wife Traci Cleverley Pink lived with epilepsy from a young age, but she never let it dominate her life. Considering that her seizures were largely controlled through medication, her death from SUDEP in November 2011 at the age of 39 came as an utter shock. Hers was a compassionate, generous soul and she left a large hole in our community. I pray for the day when no one suffers the devastating loss of a family member from SUDEP, and thank the organizers of Purple Day and the SUDEP Aware team for continuing to spread awareness about epilepsy and SUDEP. ~ Doug Cleverley, Purple Day statement for SUDEP Aware

Today, I will wear purple, and remember.

If you or members of your family have epilepsy, I encourage you to find out all you can about seizure prevention and about SUDEP. It’s been said by many that epilepsy has been in the shadows for too long; then there is SUDEP, hidden in the shadows of epilepsy. How many family members of people with epilepsy know nothing about SUDEP? Don’t let tragedy be the reason you find out, as it was for me and continues to be for too many families.

campaign_logoFor more information, I highly recommend SUDEP Aware’s “Making Sense of SUDEP” eToolkit – click here to visit the campaign page and download the materials. For general information about epilepsy, I recommend you visit Purple Day’s Epilepsy Resources page or the Canadian Epilepsy Alliance website.

Will you join me in wearing purple today? Help bring epilepsy and SUDEP out of the shadows!

Burlington-20120326-PurpleDay

Lisa Scott’s Purple Day 2012 miracle orchid – see Moving In and scroll down to the end.

And now for something completely different, because I can never think of Purple Day without thinking of this song, a favourite of Traci’s. Purple is the colour for today …

 

Always remembering Traci

Traci at White Point Resort, Nova Scotia

Your name is upon my tongue
your image is in my sight
your memory is in my heart
where can I send these words that I write ?
Rumi

You would be 42 years old today. I’m reflecting on this, and thinking today will always be a day to remember you. I am sad that you are gone, but happy you were born, and that we shared a life together for a few years.

Today, Shadow and I will brave the bitter weather and go for a walk on our beach. You will be there with us, in spirit, and I’ll throw a stick for Shadow, thinking of you.

Readers, I have little more I can add to what I wrote last year, and the year before. My life is changing, the face of grief is evolving, and I find I have little to say today that hasn’t already been said. If you knew Traci, and if you are so moved, please just take a moment today, and say, Thank you.

Previous birthday posts: