Death’s Angel

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Death’s Angel, also known as the Angel of Death, or the Black Angel, is probably the most important figure that we will meet, face to face, here, in the evening of our lives. He appeared at my bedside the other night, and spoke to me. Bright moon. The Angel stood there, haloed, blazing in a spotlight of glory.

“Everything you have, I own,” he announced, taking my hand. “Your house, your wife, your children, your cat, your dog, your car, your books, your flowers, your garden, they are all mine. And one day I will return and take you  from them.”

Cold, the moonlight. Frigid, that waking from my dreams. My hand burned with his fire, yet I shivered.

“When will you call for me?” I asked?

“Soon,” he said. “Very soon. And remember: it will always be much sooner than you think.”

“What can I do?”

“Nothing. I will lend you all these things that you think you own, for a  little while longer, but you must never forget that I am lending them to you. You do not possess them. They are only borrowed.”

“And then?”

“And then they will be mine As you will be mine.”

“There must be something I can do to …”

“There is always something. Embrace me now. Hold me. Breathe in my breath. Know me for who and what I am.”

I did as he asked and his warmth filled me. I looked into his eyes and no longer knew fear.

“There is no past,” he said. “No future. All that you own is this precious moment, the magic of the now, this breath you inhale, this air you release. That is what you own. Understand that, and let everything else go. Live in the moment, for the joy of the day. Seize each second, as you live it. Enjoy it, for that alone is yours. Knowledge, foreknowledge, and understanding: these are my greatest gift to you.”

Then, for a moment, I knew and  came to terms with the gifts he gave me.

“Sleep now,” he said. “But remember, I will be back.”

I fell asleep and dreamed of the man who met Death in Cairo. Death looked surprised to see him. “What are you doing here?” he asked. Fear filled the man. He ran, packed his bags, left Cairo with its vision of Death, and traveled as swiftly as he could to Baghdad. where he met again there with Death, who welcomed him.

“Why were you so surprised to see me in Cairo?” the man asked.

“Because we had a meeting here in Baghdad, tonight,” Death replied. “And I didn’t know if you’d show up.”

When I awoke, a joyous sun illuminated the world. What I had heard and seen rang out with splendor of church bells calling across green fields and leafy woods on a summer morning. I also knew that what the Angel told me, was not for me alone. It was for everyone I knew. A message, not of sorrow, but of joy, not of despair, but of hope.

This wine I sip, this bread I break, this ray of sunshine, this raindrop glistening, that nervous deer peering shyly from the woods, that chickadee feeding, those crows that bring the world back to life with their daily chorus, each is instant of life held, for the briefest of moments, and then released.

My greatest joy, gained from reading Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements,  is to pass his wisdom on to you who read my words, for this message will change your life, as Don Miguel Ruiz’s message has changed mine.

Carpe diem: seize the moment. Deus est in nobis: it is the world soul alive and living within us, unique to each of us. While it is with us, our joy will live forever, and, even though we perish, that joy once shared will never die.

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Safety Blankets

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Serendipity, really, that the links below should appear so close together. First, Meg Sorick’s post on drawing toys  and childhood memories. Some of us can draw (well done, Meg, congratulations). Others can’t, and must take a line for a walk, or must color or crayon or live with their black and white memories. Yet we never forget these early comforters, these early friends.

Traumatic, sometimes, the separation of us from our childhood beloveds and then the substitution of wool and cotton, of Teddy and struggle from the flesh and blood that never quite fulfilled the hollowness within us.

“Grow up,” the grown ups said. And offered us a world of cynicism and misery.

I remember when I asked the priest (I was about 4 years old at the time) if I would see my dead dog when I got to heaven.  He told me that dogs didn’t have souls and I’d never see him him again. Tough luck. I was lucky. The dog wasn’t. Apparently that particular priest had never heard of the Rainbow Bridge.

‘You must grow up,’ he said.

“If that’s your reality,’ I said, echoing the words of Atahualpa, ruler of the Incas,  “I don’t want to go to your heaven, and I don’t want to grow up. Ever.”

“So what will you do, who will you be?”

“I’ll be Peter Pan,” I said. I think I was four, but I might have been five.

At an international conference, a few years ago, while I was still recognized, before the age of 65, as a real, productive human being, a young lady, hearing my strange, outlandish accent, asked me “Where did you grow up?” “I don’t think I have,” I replied.

Why do we have to grow up? Picasso said that he had spent most of his adult life learning to see the world once more through the eyes of a child. And why ever not? Metaphors, beliefs, myths, acceptance, understanding, friendship, openness, willingness to learn  … things that are gradually worn away as hierarchy, authority, obedience, socialization are taught to us by those who think know best.

Are these the ones who also brought us so many things that are wrong with our world? The inability to think for ourselves, fear of authority, the need to fit in and be accepted, fear of the mob, the crowd, of those who believe in what they are told to believe. The fear of the other. The need to destroy that which we don’t understand.

Advertisements? I love them and sing them all day long. Tee-shirts with slogans? Wonderful. I wear them and show them proudly to my friends. Sound bytes? I never question them and I circulate them to my friends. For ‘whether I think for myself or no, I’m sure is only touch and go’. You may or may not recognize the poet, but I do. I was born less than a mile down the road  from him. You’ve probably never heard of him, but I have.

Accept my poet-neighbor and reject what modern society throws at me? It’s a difficult choice, isn’t it? How do we choose and why? What do we think and why do we think it? Or do we just follow the mob, the herd instinct, the sheep?

“If there were five sheep in the field, and one got out, how many would be left? Mary.”

“None, miss.”

“What do you mean, none? What’s one from five, Mary.”

Mary was the local farmer’s daughter. She didn’t think like that.

“No, miss,” said Mary. ” Sheep don’t think like that. If one got out the field, the rest would follow. There’d be none left.”

Terrible mathematics. Wonderful sheep psychology. A young creative mind thrown on the rubbish heap of ‘true’ knowledge at five years of age. Dismissed as an ignorant fool. What a pity.

And what’s wrong with Teddy Bears and childhood toys? I love them. I still have my daughter’s Paddington Bear beside my bed. Yellow Sou’wester, yellow welligogs, for those who know what they are. Here’s Meg Sorick’s take on my folly:

https://megsorick.com/2018/12/09/the-year-of-drawing-adventurously-week-49-toys/

Who is Meg Sorick? In my own mind, she is a bright, intelligent human being, who looks upon our ageing and cynical world with childhood in her mind, and intelligence in her paint-brush and her pen.

As for the real world? What’s it all about, Alfie, Bertie, Cecily, Dewi?

Living in my own world, with a creative Joey in my Kangaroo pouch, not really Roger the Ripper Roo, I honestly don’t know. A Marsupalian view of the universe? Why ever not? If you can believe in the koala, and the marsupials, and the kookaburra, and the platypus duck, you can believe in anything. Read the linked article below about childhood teddies … if you dare … I did … many won’t.

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/dec/12/still-have-childhood-teddy-psychological-power-toys-we-keep

 

 

Rejection

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“Oh no, another rejection!”

“And rejection equals dejection, or doesn’t it?”

“Only if you let it get you down. I wait until I am in a foul mood and ready to tear things to pieces because my mean streak is surfacing. Then I go to my rejections pile, re-read the rejection letters, then read again the pieces that have been rejected.”

“Why on earth would you do that?”

“Above all to work out why the work was rejected. What did the editors see that I didn’t? When I write, I wear rose-tinted glasses and all my little babies are the prettiest, the strongest, the fairest in the land, especially when I give them the ‘mirror, mirror on the wall’ test.”

“I’ve never heard of that.”

“It’s simple: you look in the mirror and ask ‘Who’s the fairest writer of all?’ and the mirror answers ‘Why, you are, of course.’ If you believe that, and as writers, we often do, then rejection becomes a hard realistic rock, shattering both Ego and Id. The immediate response is to deny the editor’s taste and judgement. It is amazing how many stupid, dumb, and uncultured editors there are out there. They hate us and don’t understand us.”

“That’s true.”

“No it isn’t. The fault, dear Brutus, lies in ourselves, not in our editors, that we are not great writers. Understand that, and you have a chance to succeed and to improve. Re-reading allows me to try and understand what went wrong, why the mirror lied, how the rose-tinted glasses distorted the actuality of the written page. Understand the other and how the other perceives what and how you write and maybe, just maybe, you can condition yourself to improve. Many budding writers are dropped on stony ground and fall by the wayside. Others land in the desert and their things of beauty bloom where nobody sees them. Some fall on seemingly fertile ground and earn an immediate immortality that fades in a season when the fad wears off. A few writers, an occasional few, go back to the drawing board and water their flowers with the sweat of their brow. Eventually, if they are lucky, their work may be accepted.”

“You always preach the bus story, Julius.”

“Of course I do. Get off the bus early, and you’ll never finish your journey. Remember Sir Walter Raleigh: ‘it’s not the beginning, but the continuing of the same until it be thoroughly finished that yieldeth the true glory.’ He didn’t sail the Golden Hind around the word by setting up house in Cadiz and living in luxury on a beach in the south of Spain. He continued on and on, always forward, until he arrived back in his home port.”

“So we must just keep going, then?”

“Of course. But never blindly. Take criticism to heart, remembering that it comes from another’s heart. Learn from your mistakes. Correct them when you find them. Never give up.”

“You’re always happy, Julius. I bet you never get rejected.”

“Oh I do, Brutus, I do. And each rejection is a dagger to the heart. But I keep going. For example, last week I received my fifteenth consecutive rejection. So much work, so much genius, and all denied.”

“But you’re still smiling.”

“Indeed I am. I have just received my second acceptance in two days. I no longer feel betrayed by my editors.”

“I’ll never betray you, Julius.”

“You will, Brutus, you will. Never fear, et tu, Brute.”

Buzz Words

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Beware of Buzz words. Beware too of the perils of what Bobby McDonagh, in the article linked below, calls the thought incinerator. A thought incinerator is a word or phrase that can be repeated again and again to destroy thought and argument. McDonagh’s article illustrates the use of thought incinerators in politics. Being more apolitical than political, I am interested not in politics, but in the linguistic argument that involves the erosion of language and meaning and the destruction, with chanted, thoughtless choruses, of logical discourse and analysis.

Lock her up, the people have spoken, build that wall, drain the swampfake news, all fall into the category of thought incinerators, precisely because they can be repeated endlessly with no need to present logical arguments to support their continued usage. While these mindless chants can be attributed to one side of the political divide in the USA, more similar phrases can be found in the article below touching on the current political situation in the [Dis-] United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. some examples follow: the elite, project fear, Brussels bureaucrats, Brussels bullying, Brussels blackmail, the EU wants to punish Britain, whatever did Europe do for us, not to mention the notorious red bus and its far-reaching message “350 million quid a week for the NHS. I encourage you to read the and hopefully to understand what such mindless repetitions do to incinerate thought within our so-called democratic society.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/nov/20/brexiteers-trump-language-fake-news

The problem goes beyond politics and enters the realm of language erosion. In our province, the local newspapers write at a grade nine language level and like it or not, we deal on a daily basis with functional illiteracy. Spelling, if and when people actually write, has become phonetic because less and less reading takes place, and the world is summed up in catchy sound bytes from radio and television and the shorter the better. Slowly, we are reduced to devouring slogans like those repeated above.

I look at the trees in the garden: birch, pine, spruce, fir, tamarack, hackmatac (from the Western Abenaki?), balsam poplar, larch, willow, mountain ash, black willow … they can all be reduced to trees. In my garden, at the feeder, I have birds, sparrows (so many varieties), nuthatches (white and red-breasted), woodpeckers (at east three kinds), finches (many species), grosbeaks, siskins, song-birds, warblers, passerines … but as the clear-cut loggers who cleaned the hillside behind my house pronounced “trees are just trees, we’re here to clear them out,” we might just as well say “birds, just birds, we’re here to fatten them and feed them to the cats”.

The erosion of language, the erosion of thought, the dumbing-down of society, the reduction of the world to advert, slogan, and chant, the loss of thoughtful democracy … this is what I fear most. And, as I age, I fear the loss of memory as song sparrow, white-throat, chipping, Lincoln, are slowly fading into generic ‘sparrows’. Soon, alas, they will probably all flap their wings and fly away, fading into the simplistic grey mist of a disappearing species … ‘birds’. I fear that day and I fear what memory loss and thought incineration and language erosion are doing to my precious world.

More thoughts on language erosion can be found here

https://rogermoorepoet.com/2018/11/17/thinking-outside-the-box/

Naval Gazing

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Naval Gazing

Of course I haven’t spelled it incorrectly. Just look at those three ships, not to mention the ‘bell-bottom blues’ jeans my alter ego wears in this apology for a selfie. And yes, of course, the protagonist is navel gazing, too. We all do it from time to time. We have to. We need to know who we are and what we are all about. As Cesar Vallejo wrote, a long time ago: “Hay golpes en la vida, yo no s锑there are setbacks in our lives, I don’t know.’ How do we deal with these sudden setbacks? That depends on each of us: our background, our culture, our ability to bounce back from nowhere and nothing to set ourselves upon the true path again. Man is stronger than he thinks he is, while woman is even stronger than man. Strength: it exists in many forms and holds many meanings. Sure, it means the amount of weight we can lift. But it also means the amount of weight and cares we can carry and how long we can carry them for. And that is where women are so strong.

Every so often, we must all navel gaze. We must look at ourselves, not in the mirror, but in the depths that live within us. I am in navel gazing mode right now. To a certain extent, I have lost my way and I feel very strongly I must find it again. So I sit and think and look inside myself and search and wait with great patience for the light to arrive and  enlighten me once more. It will come. I am sure of that.

Yesterday

Yesterday, a lovely lady read me
my biopsy results.

She poured a bitter drink
into a poisoned chalice
and offered it to me.

It was my personal Gethsemane,
a cup from which I was forced to drink.

I sat there in silence, sipping it in.
Darkness wrapped its shawl
around my shoulders.

‘Step by step,’ she cautioned me,
‘it’s like walking on stepping stones.’

I opened my eyes, but I could no longer see
the far side of the stream.

This poem opens my book A Cancer Chronicle (available on Amazon). It refers to the moment, three years ago, when my urologist confirmed that indeed I had prostate cancer and that, yes, it needed treatment. “Hay golpes en la vida, yo no sé”. The cartoon, I hesitate to call it a painting, was completed on the ninth day of September, two months after my treatment ended. I sat in the kitchen at home, looking out at the mountain ash, watching the birds as they swarmed the tree in search of nutritious berries. Then I made the cartoon. I called it Naval Gazing. I might just as well have called it  “Hay golpes en la vida, yo no sé”.

How we deal with  such golpes / setbacks / blows defines us as human beings. I have spent much time recently encouraging others, and they must all remain anonymous, to confront their demons, call them out, and overcome them in as fair a fight as is possible. Today, I too sit in the dark, watching the snow fall, watching the birds scurrying to and from in search of sustenance. I too am searching, once again, for meaning, for light, for the energy to continue. It will come. When it does, I will embrace it with both hands and start all over again, picking up life’s threads from where I left them. Then, once again, I will see the far side of the stream.

Yesterday is the opening poem in my book A Cancer Chronicle. It is available on Amazon.

Yesterday
audio recording

Westminster Chimes

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Westminster Chimes

Not all clock towers and churches ring out with Westminster Chimes, and that is particularly true of churches where the carillons are so distinctive and those who toll the bells are so unique. That said, the Westminster Chimes are probably the most famous in the world: 4 sets of 4 notes, striking on the full hour, followed by the clock tower striking the hour itself. The build up is basic: 4 notes for the quarter hour, eight notes for the half hour, 12 for the three-quarters, and 16 before the hour strikes.

Last night I awoke at 3:15, just in time to hear the hall clock strike the quarter. The initial sounds lost themselves in the mist of sleep and I only caught the last two notes clearly, hence the bell tower of Ste. Luce-sur-mer, above, partly disguised by the St. Lawrence river mists. Doze mode, I guess, and I heard the notes at half past, then again at a quarter to, and finally the hour. I wonder how many remember the rhyme that the clock chimes? I repeat it every night as I lie awake, listening: 1/4: All through this hour, 1/2 All through this hour, be by my side, 3/4 All through this hour, be by my side, and with thy power, 4/4 All through this hour, be by my side, and with thy power,  my footsteps guide.

Dozing through the night is a funny thing and the mists of sleep walk through one’s head in many forms. Often, I count the chimes, only to find that it is not three o’ clock, but four or five. The mists have crept into my head and I was sleeping when I thought I was waking and 1 and 2 and 3 are not always followed by four and I wonder if there is a life-lesson in there somewhere that will help us through this current upside-down world of carnival and topsy-turvy pan et circenses, predicted by Juvenal in his satires. The Wikipedia definition of the second-century phrase is fascinating: “In a political context, the phrase means to generate public approval, not by excellence in public service or public policy,  but by diversion, distraction or by satisfying the most immediate or base requirements of a populace— by offering a palliative: for example food (bread) or entertainment (circuses).” O tempora! O mores! (Cicero).

Sometimes we have to take steps backwards through time to fully understand the meaning of our own times. In the meantime, we can look out of the window, here in Island View, and see the ruins of the summer garden, slowly crumbling before our eyes. Then we can quote again, this time from Samuel,  ‘Ichabod, Ichabod, the Glory has departed.’

 

Friends

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Friends

Strange things, friends. What are they exactly? And how do we make them?  In fact, do we make friends, or do we just grow together, like gardens or trees? Birds of a feather, they say, but our feathered friends are flighty and the snow-birds leave in the hard times only to return when the sun comes back. Fair-weather friends, then, and I have known a lot of those.

I turned to Wikipedia, the source of all knowledge, but all I could find under FRIENDS was a series of articles on TV shows, every episode, every actor, every friendship, every situation, but no discussion of what friendship actually meant. FRIENDSHIP: I looked that word up and the results were much more satisfying. The article ranged from a definition: ‘a mutual attraction among people’ to a series of academic studies about friendship in childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and older adults. As we age, so our notions of friendship change. In addition, as we move from place to place, job to job, so our circles of friendship grow old, renew themselves, and gradually fade away. One study shows that in adulthood we rarely have more than two good, true friends. Our acquaintances are many, but our friends are few. Old age brings a different set of equations to bear and loneliness and isolation with the consequent absence of friends, all bring their own problems, including sickness and ill-health.

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Here are some of my closest friends. Rosie is named after Rosie the Elephant in Bristol Zoo. Teddy is the Koala. Basil is the small one on the left with the pink ribbon. Chimney is the little one on the right with the orange skirt. Her name’s Chimney, but I call her Sweep. Don’t ask, I won’t tell. These friends summarize all the needs of friendship: they don’t beat me up, they listen when I talk, they don’t interrupt me, they nod silent agreement to my opinions, and they soak up my tears when I cry. They also keep me warm in bed at night. Well, Rosie and Teddy do anyway. These are not their real names, incidentally. Teddies, like cats, have secret names, and you cannot really call a teddy bear your friend until he or she has revealed that name to you. It may take years for that to happen. The speed or the slowness of the true name’s arrival has nothing to do with the success of the friendship.

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This is Princess Squiffy aka Vomit. She threw up beside my chair again yesterday and I am just not sure if that is a sign of friendship or not. At least she didn’t throw up in my chair, which is what she did last time my beloved was away visiting our daughter in Ottawa. So, how do your friends show their friendship? By sitting in silence and listening? By keeping you warm in bed at night? By throwing up in your chair? By presenting you with hairballs, so carefully formed and all gift-wrapped? I am not sure. I guess I’ll have to go back to Wikipedia and check it all out. In the meantime: here’s a picture of man’s best friend.

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I bet you weren’t expecting that!