Wake Up Day 2017

Spring rolls around each year with the return of wonderful weather and longer days. This has been a tumultuous year; for those who don’t know, my mom succumbed to Alzheimer’s last September, and inside two months afterwards I had a new job, working with a new team in a new location. I’m quite enjoying it, though it has been filled with challenges I did not expect, in many different ways. All the more reason to celebrate Wake Up Day this year, and to remember that the life and loves we have in this world can be fragile and transitory.

For those not familiar with the story behind Wake Up Day: it began with a car accident in 2001, which left me in a coma for six and a half weeks (the full story). Full recovery took a several years, during which I was fully supported by the friends and communities around me in Arkansas. Wake Up Day started as a thank you for them; since I moved to Toronto it has evolved into an appreciation of life, health and friends. The event gives me a chance every year to reconnect with people from my past. There are pictures from previous years on my Flickr page; in particular the ones from last year.

Here in Toronto, every year we grill pizza and provide beer and wine. All are welcome. If you want to bring anything else, you’re quite welcome to: but nothing else is necessary. This is not a potluck, though you are welcome to add to dinner as you wish. All we ask is that you RSVP, so that we can be sure we have enough food. This year I’ve created an Evite Invitation to allow for RSVPs, as well as a Facebook event page: or you can just send me a note direct my email. Spouses and children are quite welcome, just let us know how many you will be bringing. With an RSVP we can also let you know of any last-minute changes to the evening.

Date: Saturday May 27, 2017, 6:00pm
Location: 21 Potsdam Road, Toronto: Townhouse 51 (the location in Google is approximate)

See y’all soon!

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Resolutions: Walking

I know, I’m one of those strange people who keeps up on their resolutions every year until they’re either completed or are embarrassingly out of date. This year is no exception. One of my resolutions for 2017 was to walk more, and to hike more, and to visit more parks around the province. This includes urban, provincial, and national parks. It’s a particularly good year for this resolution; Parks Canada has offered a national passport that makes admission to any national park free. So it should not be too hard to complete.

Being the analytical and numbers guy that I am, these have measurable goals as well. I’m trying to mark out 1000 km through the various parks that I hit, and to visit at least 50 parks over the year. I’m a bit behind on my average: but then I expected that for the winter, when it’s been too cold and uncomfortable to do as much outside activity as I’d wanted. I expect to catch up in the summer. Probably the most difficult part of this is that I’m trying to include other people in my walks as well.

Yesterday was a good example of one of my walks. I decided to take a hike through some of the parks that are south of my church, at Yonge & York Mills. It was rather chilly, so it wasn’t a long walk, but it was a good one nonetheless. As often happens, I discovered something that was significant. My high school, in the northwest part of the city, is a school with a significant arts program; it was named after C. W. Jefferys, one of the most important Canadian historical artists of the twentieth century. I had known for a while that his house has been preserved just down the walkway from my church, but today I discovered that there was a memorial built to him down in the valley area where he liked to work. It was another connection to my past that I’m discovering this year

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Sesquicentennial

Canada 150 logoFor those who don’t know, 2017 is the 150th anniversary of the Confederation of Canada. I remember the Centennial anniversary: when Canada turned 100 in 1967. Well, I was all of three and a half years old, but I vaguely remember our trip to Ottawa and to the historical landmarks we visited there. It was the year of Expo ’67 in Montreal, and Mr. Dressup started on CBC television. I still have commemorative coins and dollar bills from that year. It was a time of activity and celebration: for us very much as was the American bicentennial in 1976 (which I remember much better).

I think it’s a bit of a bummer that the catch-phrase for this year is Canada150. I like the sound of sesquicentennial better; it’s a Q-word one doesn’t run into every day. But it’s also a bit long for these days. In a twitter feed, Canada150 is quicker and easier to address. It’s also a bit more prosaic, but that is less of a concern in the modern age. We want our events to be bright and expensive: but not necessarily challenging.

This year we hope for the same kind of energy and national attention as we had in ’67. I’m sure that to some degree it will be eclipsed by darkness and confusion to the south, with the rise of Trump’s quasi-capitalist propaganda: but that in itself gives us an opportunity to shine. With Trump and his cronies in power, the U.S. will advance further along its trajectory toward economic classicism, racism, misogyny, homophobia and general xenophobia. Canada has certainly taken strides in the same direction over the last decade, but we seem to be shifting our course. As the queen said in her address on New Year’s Day (CTV News, 2017), “[we] will have the opportunity to remind the world of the importance of protecting [our] values and of passing them on to future generations”. I pray that this year we will be able to resist those around us and build on values that move beyond money, wealth and power.

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The Road is How (Trevor Herriot)

I don’t remember exactly how I first discovered this book; I can’t point to anyone who recommended it, or any series of events that led to its inclusion as the last on my 2016 reading list. But somehow I stumbled across the name of the author a month or so ago. I remember looking him up: seeing his picture and reading about some of his activities. Right from the start, as a Canadian and one interested in nature, he impressed me. So I got my hands on the book, and managed to focus my time on the subway during my daily commute on reading its insights. I remember several times just stopping to think about his words amid the hustle and bustle of the train ride and the people jostling around me. The peace I derived in the midst of all that confused energy was almost palpable.

I am currently less than halfway to the end, but I felt a need to write about the experience as it is happening, not just after it is done. Mr. Herriot writes a lot about connection and spirituality: and even though his world is starkly different from mine, he builds words that form bridges across space and time. From his descriptions in the book, we could hardly be more different. Though from the same nation, I am Golden Horseshoe while he is more Prairie; I am Urban while he is more Rural; I am institutionalized Religion while he is more personal Faith. I am gay, while he is straight. Yet all of that seemed insignificant as I followed him (or am following him) through his words on a something of a pilgrimage that is intent on healing and rediscovery. The range of his thoughts as he progresses echoes my own. I may not agree with everything he says, but at least he has challenged my way of thinking: with thoughts on what it is to be a man, to be human, and to be part of the natural world. It’s been a while since I’ve come across writing that has done that for me.

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World AIDS Day 2016

Yesterday was World AIDS Day. As one who is involved with the LGBTQ community in Toronto and internationally, I knew it was coming. I’d seen the reminders, I read the posts. The day is not insignificant to me; I have seen some of its effects. I did not come out until very late in the last millennium, so I missed the real ravages of the “AIDS Epidemic” in the 80s and 90s. I knew none who were infected at that time, and I barely recognized how those who were had been dehumanized by those who did not understand and especially by the church. Today the situation is much better and people in Western nations are living much longer, but there remains and underlying sigma associated with the virus. So I do think it’s important to recognize World AIDS Day when it rolls around. At other times I’ve made a point of walking through the “AIDS Memorial” at The 519, a recognition of those who have died over the years.

But yesterday was a busy day for me. Dentist first thing; then I had to run to work and spent much of the day redeveloping a reading analytical tomes; I took some time to do some Christmas shopping afterwards and then zoomed home for dinner. As I was checking my FaceBook feed before bed, a friend posted about World AIDS Day. I had completely forgotten. It had been a good day, and I just got too busy to reflect on the import of the day.

It occurred to me that those who are HIV+ don’t have that option. They can’t forget about HIV or AIDS, even for a day. They might be living longer, but it is by maintaining a specific regimen regarding drugs and their health. They can’t afford to have a day that is “too busy” that they forget who they have become.

I remember a time before AIDS. Though we will never be without it again, we can conquer it’s effects on people, we can find a cure. I pray that will happen soon, within my lifetime. Although people who are HIV+ can certainly live today almost normal lives, I pray that one day they will be free of the drugs they have to take to keep the virus in check. It is possible. It’s up to us to make it a reality.

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Mince Tarts

Shopping this morning, we found some mince tarts… one of my favourite Christmas traditions in our family. I’ve tried to find a reference online, but have not been able to find anything quite the same. Mince tarts are considered lucky. The custom for us included having mince tarts in December: every tart (or slice of a larger mince pie) represented good luck for one month in the coming year. Which was generally not difficult for me.

Some years, however, I’ve not quite completed the task. Last year, I remember, was a busy holiday season. So I only got ten of my twelve requisite tarts. Which took me through to October. Right up until about the time of the American election. That might help explain a few things.

So I bought a box of tarts and am all set to start December first. I may not believe a lot in lucky traditions, but I do believe that in 2017 we will need as much help as we can get.

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Remembrance Day 2016

On Remembrance Day in Canada (called Veteran’s Day in the States) I am often reflective (as I was in a post 5 years ago). I remember in Junior High (I think it was in English class, Grade 8), I had to memorize and recite “In Flander’s Fields” on November 11th. Far from being a threatening experience (one of my first times standing up in front of class… and for a teacher whom I respected), I learned a lot from it. I came to respect the decisions made in the past that have brought us to war. Even though I’m a pacifist, even though I think that most of our leaders go to war far too easily, I have to respect that being part of my culture and the socio-political system that I was born into. Although I’ve never officially been part of any army or drawn weapons against another (and hope I never have to), I’ve had enough brushes with the subject and have friends in the Forces (of one country or another) that I’ve come to where my respect for the military abounds. So each year around Remembrance Day I take time to honour the sacrifices and efforts of others to build the freedom that I enjoy today.

This Remembrance Day is a little darker than most I remember, certainly than any over the last few years. And it’s because, more than I have recently, I wonder where our world is headed. Watching the U.S. Election over the last few months, and particularly to see how far one of the candidates was willing to go… or rather, perhaps, how deeply he was willing to delve… rather shocked me. And then to see that he was rewarded for mastering such a rhetoric of evil: that saddened me. It did not surprise me, but it darkened the world in my eyes. That so many people were willing to vote for such a person is a bleak testimony to our time, our world.

Part of the reason that I find this so sad is that I don’t think the sacrifices we remember today were made with this kind of “freedom” in mind. Freedom to love, yes. Freedom to pursue our dreams, absolutely. Freedom to be who we were intended to be, whatever our gender, orientation, race or religion: without question. But freedom to exploit? No. Freedom to say or do whatever we want, justified by wealth or ambition? Absolutely not. Freedom to portray the kind of hatred and abuse that one of the candidates was not only accused of, but actively portrayed before our very eyes: a thousand times no.

That kind of freedom was not what our friends and forebears died for in the past. But I believe it is what will lead to more death than we can imagine in the future.

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