Sunday, November 27, 2016


I started watching X-Company on February 18, 2015.  The World War II CBC drama "follows the stories of five highly skilled young recruits – Canadian, American and British – torn from their ordinary lives to train as agents in Camp X [,] an ultra-secret training facility on the shores of Lake Ontario.”  The historical basis of Camp X, a little known fact from Canadian history, intrigued me from the get-go.   It’s clear from the opening scenes that these young people would rather not be involved in espionnage.  War and killing are abhorrent to them.  They try to circumvent the ugliness.  For example, Tom,  an advertising professional,  will try to talk himself out of a situation rather than follow orders to shoot.  Each team member feels compelled to help to stop the Nazi machine.  Alfred is terrified of noise and danger, but he too is determined to overcome his challenges to help the war effort.  The characters  simply cannot sit by and watch.

The episodes haunted me.  As I watched, I wondered what I would have done had I lived in post-1933 Europe or in post-1939 Canada. Would I have had the courage to speak out?  Would I have been prepared to give my own life to aid Jews being humiliated in the streets of Europe or sent to ghettos and  camps?  Would I have volunteered to take an active part in the war effort at home or abroad to help thwart a world threat to freedom?

I couldn’t answer the question.  Actually, that’s not really true.  I  have to say out loud that I would not have had the courage to put my life on the line.  In the depths of my cowardly heart, I was grateful that life, thanks to some fortunate star, had so far spared me those hard decisions.   Instead, it had shown me a panoply of issues I thought I could keep at arm’s length: racism toward First Nations peoples, famine in developing countries,  atrocities in El Salvador, Argentina, and Chile, genocide in Rwanda.  I was able to pay lip service to acknowledging those causes—learning about Treaties and dismembering myths, giving money for famine relief, reading about upheaval in Central America and Africa.  I was too busy with my life, my career and my family, however, to do more.   Someone else could do it.  Others were doing it.

Well, no longer.   The Canadian election campaign of the summer and fall of 2015 jolted me.  During those months, proposals of a barbaric cultural practices tip line, hate memes directed at Muslims and stories of physical and verbal abuse of minorities in Canada made me wonder what had happened to the Canada I thought I knew.   Canadians rallied, though, and rejected the party of division and the past.  The hatred and resentment went underground again, to fester.

We were only picking at the scab on the sore then, it seems. The campaign of Donald Trump ripped the scab right off, exposing the rawness underneath.  His election to the presidency of the United States has made things even worse.  It has given angry people in Canada as well as the US permission to scrawl hate messages on synagogues and mosques, and to insult people on public transportation, and to attack individuals.   

My day of reckoning has arrived.  My hour has come.  I can no longer rationalize mere lip service.  I have to act, whatever the cost.  Inspired by columnists Nicholas Kristof and Charles Blow of the New York Times, who have both vowed to continue to speak out, I must call out hate in whatever form I see it, and share articles on the subject as well.   The same goes for the falsehood and misinformation that unscrupulous people use to advance their ideas, discredit their naysayers, and make themselves look good (see Trump and the Kentucky Fordfactory).  Third, in my own sphere, thinking globally and acting locally, I will continue to support refugees, defend First Nations and stand in solidarity with them, and work for social justice in my community.  

I intend to use this blog as well.  My life after "retirement" has taken an unexpected direction—activism.  Those of you who follow this blog know that I like to tell stories, to reflect on the human condition, and to find meaning in even so-called insignificant moments of the day.  Those posts will continue.  You may, however, find more posts with a political slant going forward.  I hope that my thoughts on the effect of events on my retired life will not dissuade you from reading. 

Sometimes, even the innocuous exploration of a new TV series can bring about a stark moment of life-changing clarity.   X-Company’s prescient context and themes mixed with unfolding political events to create a chemical reaction:  a bright light around mission at this stage in my life.  And, by the way, the final season of X-Company begins on CBC on January 11, 2017.  Season 2 is available online, and Season 1 on DVD.

Sunday, November 20, 2016


"It's over.  He won. Deal with it,"  a Facebook responder replied to a comment about the message the cast of Hamilton delivered to Vice-President-elect Pence on Friday night.   Trump won the election.  So, the implication is, I guess, that neither he nor Pence ever need to deal with any protest.  Case closed.  Following that logic, the cast of Hamilton was out of line when they gathered on stage to remind the vice-president-elect, an audience member, that many Americans are worried about their rights and to be sure to govern for all.  Trump thought so.  "Apologize!" he tweeted.   In seizing the occasion to send a frank and professional message, however, spokesperson Brandon Victor Dixon and the cast were doing exactly what the comment author  recommended: deal with the election.  After all, deal-with-it is an equal opportunity obligation.

Yes, Trump won the Electoral College.  He will be president.  His administration will presumably try to enact some form of the measures he proclaimed during the campaign.  Those who voted against Trump do have to deal-with-it.  One part of that is reconciliation to the reality.  There will be no major do-over for four years; in two years, at the mid-term elections, there’s a chance to mitigate the pervasive power Trump was given.  The other part of deal-with-it, however, is action people will take in the face of Trump administration legislation and executive action.   Citizens have a repsonsibility to make the opposing voice heard.  People must remind their fellow citizens of their shared values.  They must proclaim their inalienable rights under the Consitution, and they must speak out against any actions that mean to impose limits on those rights.  Deal-with-it strategies need to be lawful, peaceful, articulate, and respectful. Deal-with-it in the community of voters who did not support Trump involves vigilance and action as much as it does acceptance.

Trump and his administration have several realities to accept as well.  First, they did not win the popular vote.  They have to deal-with that.  More Americans voted against Trump than for him.  So, the administration starts with a lot of discontent and fear.   It can expect challenge and opposition.  Democracy depends on the dissenting opinion.  Second, Trump has to deal with the fallout from the vicious campaign he orchestrated.  He chose to insult and degrade Mexicans, Muslims, women, fellow Republicans, and, really, anyone who disagreed with him on any given day.   His intentions to deport millionsof undocumented migrants, and to prevent Muslims from entering the UnitedStates are recorded in his own words.  Now, having given people permission to be hateful and having modelled vulgarity and degradation, Trump and his surrogates have to live with the consequences.  (This is an immutable truth, my mother would say:  Quand tu craches en l'air, ça te retombe sur le nez, literally translated as, When you spit in the air, it falls back on your nose.)  His administration will have to deal with the violence that arises from hate.  Trump also has to expect that the communities he disparaged are watching and vocal.  In addition, Trump also fabricated « truth » throughout the campaign.  That trend has continued post-election.    Trump can expect that people will deal with that trend by calling out those lies.  To deal with his election, people will let Trump know what they think of his words and actions.

Deal-with-it, then, is not a maxim that applies only to the losers.  The Trump administration-in-waiting must deal with the effects of the hate sown during the campaign, as well as challenges, criticism, or protest.  It can also expect publicized fact-checks of its statements.  The powerful message that the cast of Hamilton delivered to Vice-President-elect Pence is only one such manifestation of deal-with-it.

Thursday, November 3, 2016


In last week’s post, I asked the question, Can I dance when I don’t like the music?  My reply was that, with resolve and strength of will, dancing to music I don’t like is not only possible, but necessary for a joyful life.  That thought does sum up my own experience, and it is valid, but only to a point.  My post failed to address a key issue.  I’m surprised, actually, that no one has pointed out that missing piece.

It’s all well and good to talk about dancing when there’s music, whether one loves the music or not.  The only reason I have music to dance to is that I won the birth lottery.  I was born to parents who wanted me, who loved me, and  who sacrificed so that I would be safe, thrive on good food,  and have access to competent medical care.  Their selflessness meant that I had an encyclopedia at home before my school purchased one, that I taught myself to type when I was twelve, and then did the same typing exercises all over again when I was fourteen at school in Grade 9.  I learned to play the piano thanks to their vision, read books that never would have shelved in the school library,  and benefited from a great home environment and a chance know my extended family.   So I always had music.  Was it always my favorite?  Of course not.  But the option to dance was always there.   The birth lottery paid dividends my whole life—I had a university education and a satisfying career, the chance to raise a family, contribute to my community, and travel.

What about people who don’t have music?  What about people who must live in noise?  Because the opposite of music is not silence.  The opposite of music is noise.  Many people lose the birth lottery.  Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times  writes eloquently on the subject in "3 TV’s and No Food: Growing Up Poor in America" (and other countries like Canada by extension).   These people might have to climb out of abject and cyclical poverty.  They might live in neighborhoods or families that face addiction issues.  They might not have money for good food or books, and they might be starved for support and a leg up.  Some people do manage to dance in those environments despite the noise.  They make their own music, or they blot out the noise.  They have more strength of character than I could ever muster.    Many, though, are swallowed up in the din.

As a winner of the birth lottery, my life moves to music.   That good fortune carries obligation.   At some point, in ways large or small, I must  act to silence the noise for people who need music in their lives.  As my mother preached to us, "From those to whom much has been given, much will be expected" (Luke 12:48).  Or, as Hillary Rodham Clinton’s mother preached to her, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” (Methodist tenet).  My intention to quell the noise for even a few people continues to be a work in progress.

I do, however, own that opportunity is a function of the accident of birth.  Birth luck is the foundation of accomplishment; it determines whether noise or music accompanies life.  If I have the choice to dance or not, then I need to pay that forward and provide some music for others.