Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Wednesday's Words July 31, 2019

You always know when the couple you’re with is married and has been for some time. There’s a distinct language I’m going to call “marriage-speak”. This language is peppered with quick back and forth exchanges of snappy repartee and contradictory thoughts, sentences or sometimes, just single words. It’s also marked by a propensity to transport the speakers away from the main subject being discussed to an entirely different conversational planet altogether.

I understand this language because I speak it myself. Of course, there are more dialects in marriage-speak than there are in Chinese. After all, the rule of thumb for the determination of the number of possible dialects is: the more speakers there are of a basic language, the more variations of that language one may find. I know that China alone has approximately 1.386 billion people; no one has ever determined how many married couples there are in the world but I’m guessing it’s more than 1.386 billion. Logic tells us, therefore, that there are more speakers of marriage-speak than of any other language, and therefore there must be more variations of same.

Often, when I visit with my brother and his wife, or with my son and daughter-in-law, I spend a fair bit of time, my head swiveling like a spectator at a tennis match, observing marriage-speak in action. It can be incredibly informative as well as highly entertaining. It can tell you a lot about the couple in question. Are they truly happy in their marriage? This, of course you can determine by the temperature in the room and whether or not the couple is smiling as they indulge in marriage-speak.

And sometimes—rarely but it does happen—listening to a couple mid-marriage-speak can lead to a personal epiphany for the listener.

The thing about epiphanies is this: they are not simply moments when one has one’s eyes opened to something profound and not previously recognized; they can also be moments when something—a particular bit of knowledge, say—makes the final transition for the listener from head knowledge to heart knowledge.

I was at my brother’s house one day last week. We live in the same town and have done so since David and I moved to this town in 1989. In those days we were struggling, financially; housing was less pricey in this town, so we sold the lemon-house we had in the county in which we’d lived for most of our married lives and ventured to here. Now, when we moved here, my big brother laid down the law to me (strange how big brothers tend to do that no matter what the age or maturity of the little sister may be). He said, “don’t you think you’re going to be over here all the damn time.” I never would have thought that, but as you likely know from all the essays I’ve written over the years, I have always been an old-fashioned woman, relationship wise. This man was my big brother, the man of the house in my birth family after the death of my daddy. I took his words to heart. In the last couple of years, my brother and his wife have commented that they don’t see me very often. Of course, they don’t. I’m a dutiful baby sister.

But I digress.

I was over there, because my brother had a stroke in June and was recently released from the hospital. Thankfully, the doctors were able to eliminate the clot in the left artery, and while his left side is weak, he’s walking with a walker and he is speaking without impediment, other than having a reduced volume to his voice. His wit is as sharp as ever. The doctors feel he will make a close to full recovery in time.

Our conversation was animated. My sister-in-law, who’s a vegan sometimes and a vegetarian at others, declared the only reason he had this stroke—and the heart-attacks he’d had in his 60s, was because he has been a meat-eater all his life. But, no more! He will eat no more meat. Then she looked at me and said, this is true, trust me. I, being ever honest, informed her that I didn’t particularly trust her, but I did love her, and that would have to do.

We began to chat about other things, and in the course of this leg of the conversation, my sister-in-law declared that there is no truth anymore. I’d heard this, of course, but was interested in hearing her say this because she’d always been convinced that she always walks in the truth. Then they both declared it! “There’s your truth and my truth and their truth. So, see? No real truth.” The truth, my brother concluded, was indeed no more. That sounded familiar to me because I’ve heard public figures, and public disgraces, say that very same thing on my television.

And that was when I had my epiphany.

Everyone, somehow, has conflated “truth” with “belief”. They’ve forgotten that belief is something personal to one’s self. Truth, however, is a statement verified by evidential fact, whereby the evidence is presented without the aid of prevarication. Belief is personal; truth is universal. And rarely the twain shall meet.

And I have even figured out why it is so many people are confused. The difference is simple. Too many of us think that we’re the only ones who matter. We’re the only ones who are important. And so therefore, if we say it’s so, it is.

We’ve forgotten to nurture the quality of humility in our hearts, and then live it in our lives.


Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Wednesday's Words for July 24, 2019

In Canada, where I live, the official dawn of “senior citizenry” is generally considered to be the age of 65. Once one turns 65, one may collect one’s government pension if one has a mind to do so.

There have been a lot of arguments, pro and con about collecting your pension at aged 65. Now, the government pension—called CPP, Canada Pension Plan in all the provinces except Quebec (where it is called Quebec Pension Plan), is a plan into which one contributes over the course of their entire working lives. For every dollar I contributed, the government (or, truly, my fellow citizens) kicked in the same. Through the years, there has always been a “maximum contribution” amount, an amount that goes up a little each year. That means anyone making over a specified amount of money reaches a maximum number of dollars they can contribute each year. If you make seventy thousand or a hundred and seventy thousand, your contribution is the same. Paying the maximum amount (currently about 2,900 annually) is called “topping out”, and while I never came close to doing so, my husband did.

Likewise, when it is time to collect, you get a monthly payment which also has a “maximum amount”. I believe that amount now is around 1,200 dollars a month.

I’ll be finding out in the next few weeks what my monthly payout will be, but it won’t be as much as my husband’s. I’m expecting around 700 a month. Now, that’s just pension. There is also this thing called “Old Age Security” which is a separate stipend from the government, and is the same for almost everyone, regardless of their lifetime pension plan contributions. That amount is currently about 600 a month.

I say almost everyone, because for those who didn’t earn very much in their working lives, OAS offers the possibility of a “guaranteed income supplement”.

Now as to the arguments that I mentioned, “pro and con”. You can collect your CPP earlier than age 65—I think you have to be at least 60. If you do, for every year earlier than 65 that you choose to start to collect, your monthly stipend will be reduced. Some folks apply for and receive their CPP as soon as they qualify to do so. Their reasoning? “I’ll never live long enough to collect everything I put into it!”

Then there are the others who don’t want to follow the herd and collect at 65. For every year beyond age 65 that you put off collecting, your stipend increases a little. Everyone must begin to collect at age 70. The reasoning for those putting it off as long as they can? They want to get as big of a monthly check as possible.

I’ll be getting my first checks (CPP and OAS) at the end of the next month after I turn 65, the same as the bulk of the herd. Since I’ve been receiving quarterly royalty payments for the last several years, it will be interesting to have a “paycheck” every month. I’ve had fun telling everyone who will listen, this will be the easiest money I’ve ever earned. All I have to do, is keep breathing.

When I first entered the world of the internet, back in early 2003 as I was recovering from my open-heart surgery, I discovered a free game site called Pogo. They had a bingo game then (just one back in those days) and I happily partook. The “chat room” I visited most often was a room called Spiritual. I met several people there who, for one reason or another, were more or less what would have been considered “shut-ins”. It was a fun way to pass the time, chatting and clicking on the numbers that came up in the bingo game. As you might imagine, we got to know each other, and readily told each other our life stories. I wasn’t published yet, and I was still trying to find my way in the post-work world. I had a long recovery from my surgery. I’d been overweight and a smoker, and not in very good physical condition as I never actually exercised much. I wondered back then if I would ever get my stamina back. It took a couple of years for me to feel like myself.

In that chat room, someone—I don’t recall who—told me to “stay on top of the grass”. That expression tickled me, and I’ve responded to the question, “how are you?” quite often in the years since by saying, “I’m still on top of the grass”.

Now that I’m officially a senior, not much is going to change for me. I’ll continue to do what I have been doing, because I cannot do nothing. So I will indeed keep writing, although admittedly at a slightly slower pace than I have in years past.

I’m also going to stay on top of the grass and keep breathing.


Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Wednesday's Words for July 17, 2019

Last Sunday my husband and I marked our 47th wedding anniversary.

When you say that number out loud, forty-seven, it seems impossible to reconcile it with the sense of the life we’ve lived since our marriage all those years ago. We were only babies! Teenagers, with no real concept of what we were doing or where we were going. We married a week to the day before my 18th birthday, which means my mother had to sign consent for the marriage licence. We were already expecting our first child.

There have been times when our life together has seemed very long, and times when it feels as if we married just yesterday. There have been incredibly high highs, and devastatingly low lows. We have struggled with issues of alcoholism (David) and self-esteem (me). The two are, like us, inexorably connected. I can tell you that David is now more than 36 years sober. I’m still working on the self-esteem issues.

We have suffered losses, of course. My father died when I was a child, but we lost my mother after only three years of marriage. Then one of his sisters, then his parents, and his only brother. There are just him and his one sister left of their original family. I lost my sister, leaving just my brother and I as our original family’s sole survivors.

We have lost a granddaughter, and a son. There’s no recovering from that kind of loss. You never really get over it, you just move on. Even now, there are times of tears, and times when faith bolsters the heart. I imagine I will be teary over them, missing them, until I’m with them again. I have absolute faith our son and his daughter are in the arms of Jesus. That knowledge, that faith, helps me move on.

I’ve come to understand that the purpose of life is not to show me a good time. Fairness is a wonderful concept. I believe it exists in the ultimate sense, but not necessarily in the every-day living of life. Someone does you wrong, and eventually, I believe, they get their piece of karma cake. You just might not ever know that it’s happened. So maybe in your mind that unfairness is never met with what you consider to be its just desserts.

The truth is that yes, life is unfair. But it’s unfair to everyone, not just you, so get over it. Sometimes it’s super fair to you, giving you more than you ever imagined you would ever have, so just tell yourself it all balances out in the end, and again, get over it.

Those of us who live a faith-based life, and even those who perhaps consider themselves atheists, agree on one thing: evil is real and it does exist in this world. So knowing that, you shouldn’t be all shocked and upset when evil actually seems to get ahead or take center stage. Yeah, that happens, and it sucks, but it’s not forever.

Stand your own ground against evil where you can. No, maybe you can’t affect the ultimate victory over it. But be aware of the evil around you and refuse to participate in it. The more people resist it, the more easily it will, eventually and in its time, be defeated forever.

I had a friend who lived by the motto: life is short; eat the dessert first. That’s not a bad motto to live by, all things considered. I’m not sure what my motto should be. I know I’m deeply flawed. That I try to be kind and help others where I can, but again, deeply flawed so nowhere near as good as I could be. My goal is to do a better job in every area of my life each day. Some days I settle into my bed at night, and know I’ve tried and maybe advanced, oh, about an inch toward this goal of mine. Other nights I ask extra politely for a bigger dose of forgiveness, because I know I’ve blown it in a major way and have taken several steps back.

I truly believe my heart is good, because I don’t wish horrible things to happen to anyone, not even, necessarily, the evildoers. Generally, in my heart, I just want them gone. I want them relegated to the pages of history where, in due time, the entire world will celebrate the demise of their existence.

It will happen. I have faith.

And maybe, that informs what should be my motto through this life. I know it’s something I’ve said in these essays from time to time, so I guess the choice is only natural. I’m going to be sixty-five on next Sunday, the 21st, and so I can say that I have lived long enough and know the secret to contentment.

It’s the realization that things don’t come to stay. They merely come to pass.


Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Wednesday's Words for July 10, 2019

The most amazing thing happened Sunday night. It had been a very hot and humid weekend, and I’d spent most of it inside the house. There’s no sense in my going out, even on the porch, when it’s like that. It’s not good for my arthritis and being in the heat too long’s not good for my heart. I know I’ve written in these essays more than once I’ve become a bit of a hermit of late. And while I am completely aware of that fact, I am also fine with it.

Life is what you make it, and contrary to the way things were forty or even thirty years ago, a person who more or less stays inside for health considerations is no longer “shut in”. Thanks to the internet, one can keep their mind and their fingers occupied even if their body is somewhat at rest. Life changes, and what you used to love to do, maybe you can’t do any longer. Instead of thinking on that, I choose to find new things that I love to do. But I digress.

Sunday evening, around twilight, the heat had broken, and it was at that perfect temperature outside—not too hot, and not too cool/breezy or damp, that a visit to the porch was definitely in order. And made even more special when, after inviting me out to join him, my husband said, very quietly, “watch the lawn across the street.” I did…and then I saw it! But not just it, I saw them. There had to be ten or even twenty of them.


I know my friends in the U.S. tend to call them “lightning bugs” but we always called them fireflies. And I hadn’t seen any in years. Years! While I sat there and took them in, I felt connected once more to my childhood. I used to love to sit out at night, on our little piece of rural Ontario, and watch as the light show began each twilight in the early summer. The fireflies were just act one of my evening entertainment. The twinkling off and on was more attractive to me than city lights. In the distance, either across the road or behind us, which were both wooded tracks, the sound of the whip-poor-wills could often be heard. They provided the music, and the fireflies danced!

In my child-memory, those two natural phenomena—the bird with the onomatopoeic name and the fireflies—were a matched set.

I haven’t heard any whip-poor-wills in years, either. Those, I imagine, I will have to be in a rural setting—and at night—to hear. But I had wondered if the fireflies were no longer in our area, because I hadn’t seen them in so very long.

I don’t often sit out at night, and certainly not the way I used to as a child, and a teen, and again as a young, very busy mother of three. The outside used to be my sanctuary, my “me space” where I could be alone, surrounded only by the sights and sounds of nature. A place to breathe, to rest, to regain some of the equilibrium that would have been leeched out of me during the hours of the day just ended.

As a young girl, I would sometimes take a towel and get up on the hood of my mother’s car—a sturdy Plymouth. Yes, this was in the days when cars were made of steel. You see, the hood, then the windshield provided a solid “chaise lounge” at just the perfect angle. I could then stargaze to my heart’s content. The stars, the awesomeness of the milky way, and the occasional shooting star or aura borealis, that would be act two of my evening viewing pleasure. Oh, there were a few mosquitoes in those days, but we didn’t have any standing water close by, so their breeding grounds weren’t near us. There were a few, but not many. And they weren’t infamous, in those days, for carrying the diseases they do now.

It would be only in the aftermath of a couple of rainy days that I’d be chased inside by the biting little buggers.

Now that I know it’s possible to see fireflies again, I’ll take a couple more twilight vigils and see if I can. And if the bugs are too bad out, I’ll try viewing them from the inside of my car, which is parked right in front of my house.

I think that would be one sure way of bringing the past and the present together. Sometimes life gives you little full circles—if you are aware and keep your eyes open for them.

Blessings abound.


Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Wednesday's Words for July 3, 2019

We had a lovely Canada Day weekend, just passed. The spirit of holiday began for us on Saturday, when the three of us—David, our daughter and I—visited the St. Jacob’s Farmer’s Market for the first time this year. And this time, we managed to see a lot of it. We spent more than a half hour going our separate ways and could do that for the first time in more than a decade because we took our scooters with us.

There is definitely something to be said about having the freedom to explore on your own. David and I have never lived in each other’s pockets. We have separate interests, and when we would, in the past, go to a place as rich in choices as that farmer’s market, we would always spend some time exploring on our own.

Of course, for the last few years that wasn’t possible unless I sat somewhere and waited while he went off—which almost always happened. I learned to bring my kindle with me so I could read while I was left on my own. However, this was the first time I was able to go off on my own. I like to look at different things than he does. Not that I want to purchase anything, necessarily. But I do like to look. People are so talented! There are tons of arts and crafts there, free for the ogling. What a great time we had.

The only purchases I made were of the edible sort. Among the goodies we bought were two items it’s hard to find in our usual stomping grounds: smoked pork chops and really good apple fritters. I even got some of each for our Sonja who had to work that day and couldn’t join us.

I’m a bit more used to riding a scooter than my husband is. This was only the second time that he’d been on one in a large crowd. The last time was a few years back when we visited Las Vegas. We both rented one of those large, freedom-giving machines, and it was a definite blessing, being able to go wherever we wanted to go in that very busy and highly populated area. The big surprise for David during that trip? The way that once he was on the scooter, people didn’t always “see” him.

That’s something I noticed from the beginning. People don’t always see you if you’re n a scooter. Of course, they don’t necessarily see your cane when you walk with one, either. The reason people don’t see you on a scooter is, very simply, because you’re no longer at eye level. And they don’t see you walking with a cane because the cane’s not at eye-level, either.

David came to understand very quickly in Vegas, and was reminded this past Saturday, that he had to “drive defensively”. At one point on Saturday he had to veer hard left, because a woman was walking and texting at the same time and was headed straight for him. She did bump him, but it was only a slight bump all the way around.

The funniest thing was the woman looked up and said to him, “you should watch where you’re going.” Anyone who knows my husband would, at this point, have said, “uh oh”, and ducked. Amazingly, he didn’t lash out at her. He simply said. “I’m sorry, but you walked into me.”

I will only say that this mild response of his was refreshing to hear about—and the fact that I heard about it from him doesn’t necessarily discount his narrative of the event.

Later that day, my daughter brought her friend from an hour’s drive away to stay Saturday and Sunday nights. And she also brought her two grandbabies to stay over, Sunday night. So for a forty-eight hour period, this was a very full house. It’s a testament to the construction work done by her and her daddy that the upstairs bed-sitting room held two adults, two children, four dogs….and with the door closed, we heard nothing of them at all.

When I said those very words to Jennifer the next morning, she grinned and nodded…and then proved she was, after all, my daughter.

She said, “well, it’s a testament either to our construction skills—or how far gone your hearing is, too.”

It’s a blessing to know that when I am no longer here, the family practice of “smart assery” will continue on. A proud family tradition.

Happy Fourth of July to all my American friends. I hope your celebration is filled with family, patriotism, a fantastic meal—and the best fireworks, ever!