Drunkenness: probably NOT a contradiction to despair

It’s quarter after 3 and there’s no one in the place
‘cept you and me
So set ’em Joe
I got a little story I think you oughtta know….. (Harold Arlen/Johney Mercer)

(Frank Sinatra,melancholy, on a bar stool -the apotheosis of melancholy, too romantic to be despair. Tears in my beers).

It was quarter to 4, when I woke up. It’s inching toward 5:15 dawn now. No big deal. A friend of mine hasn’t really slept for six months. I just logged 4 hours. She sometimes gets only 2, although there are signs she’s moving out of Winston Churchill territory. Five hours seems doable to her now.

What better time than the tail-end of the night to contemplate drunkenness.

For the past few days of global chaos, I have been reading Ken Bruen’s last two Jack Taylor crime novels, The Emerald Lie and The Ghosts of Galway. When I say ‘last’, I mean adieu Jacko, at least that’s what the author has implied in interviews. From the condition of the man, it’s no wonder. He has suffered so many vicious attacks as a Guard and a private eye that he is a physical wreck -lame, deaf, with mutilated fingers, and a heart full of grief. All of his friends and even his dogs meet dreadful ends because of him. Well, not even Bruen is heartless enough to eliminate every last one. Maybe there is a short story that will clear up the oversight. Jack drinks! He likes a Guinness and a Jameson chaser. He likes the Guinness built just right. In the right mood, he can lose months of his life to these libations and then months more to the aftermath.

He can’t go into a bar without someone, usually a woman, with a wad of cash, sidling up to him and saying, “You’re Jack Taylor.” It may be a simple job, like ‘find my lost brother’ -who is entirely fictional, but more often as time has gone on, it has been ‘Look what this bastard did to my girl. Get me some payback.” Payback gets gotten, although not always by Jack. Jack’s a hurley stick man, but others in his orbit use more lethal means.

Jack is a good man, his landlady says early on and his good friend, the outside nun, later on. He is a keen man for justice, humanized by reading and music and his love of dogs and swans. He has been hardened by his “walking bitch of a mother with her tame priest”, by the corruption of the church and  the government, by the miserable poverty attendant on the collapse of the Celtic Tiger and, perhaps most of all, by the water tax.

Suffice to say Bruen knows from PTSD.

The Irish have a reputation for enjoying a drop. I do not say drunkenness. Who am I to judge? I lived with Connor for many years. He gave up martinis every Lent. I lived in hell for 40 days each spring. I have a beloved relative, Colin, who is more sensible and less church-ridden. He says of his year-round habit, “Mostly ice,” as he pours his Bombay Gin. Vermouth doesn’t even get to breathe on the glass. Both get loquacious, even argumentative. I got many a cooking lesson in front of guests from Connor. Neither fall down or pass out or miss work.

I find it hard to read the Joe Nesbo books where Harry Hole descends into drunkenness and heroin. But then some experiences have to be first hand: sex is another one. And Harry is needed sober and strong back in Norway.

College binge drinking lost its glow for me before I got out of high school. Just that one, totally horrible, unable-to-feel-appendages experience put me right off. The stag and doe parties that I see depicted on Brit telly and which apparently happen here as well are not my cup of booze. I also had a terrible experience with a brownie on my niece’s 50th. That  limited my appreciation of getting high for good and all.

I know I drink too much wine for a person of my age and constitution. A 6-oz-glass puts me in legal jeopardy, although drinking in solves that problem. Drinking alone? Get real.

(A librarian once told my daughter never to eat while reading. My daughter was outraged, “You have to eat, you know.)

So the flaming world is falling apart. The leader of the free part is tailoring his actions to please 30% of his country. They don’t seem to be terribly well-informed about historical precedent. They don’t seem to know much geography and certainly even less economic theory than the rest of us. Which is saying something! They can’t tell a good guy (Canada) from a bad guy ( Russia). They claim to be helpless to prevent child massacres on their home soil. To them, children separated from parents and locked in what sure do look like kennels if not cages, brought that on themselves, and can damn well show up in court to coo or babble their own defense – in Spanish.

Who wouldn’t drink?

The most drunken person I ever met was my Aunt Mae. She was drunk on the love of Jesus, and joyfully swept all and sundry up in her ecstasy. Also she wouldn’t say no to a nip of brandy.

Jesus and I fell out one time.

Yet I know that what woke me up this night and what is keeping me awake is fear and self-restraint and that the answer is release.

Coleman Barks organizes some of Rumi’s poems into ‘Tavern Madness’ in Rumi: the Book of Love. The tavern is a place where passion breaks loose, an excited place where one is out of one’s mind, with others.There is the shared sense of the presence flowing through. We are connected. We are one, present and absent at the same time. I love the poem that says
I didn’t come here of my own accord
And I can’t leave that way
Whoever brought me here will have to take me home.


It reminds me that something has charge over me. Whatever that is will see me safe home.When I read that, I remember I am not alone in passion or rage or goodness or hope or despair or terror. Whether what holds us together is DNA or Soul, it is universal and wise enough, drunken enough, to triumph.

In the meanwhile raise a glass – soda water with or without lemon will do. Drunkenness, O Necessarily Sober One, is fundamentally not about alcohol.

(Full disclosure: my biological grandfather, who hailed from the Emerald Isle, died syphilitic  in New Hampshire madhouse. But may have been teetotal.)

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Hope: contradiction to despair #7

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings…

Emily Dickensen

It took me a while to find this poem because I thought it said, Hope is a thing with a broken wing. A Freudian slip to be sure.

I started thinking about hope when Ian Tyson’s rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow came up on shuffle as I pulled into the No Frills parking lot. I first heard that song at age 6 when I saw The Wizard of Oz in 1942.

We Quebec children were not usually permitted to go to movies, ostensibly because of a fatal movie theater fire, but more likely because the Catholic Church held sway over the province’s morals and saw movies as corrupt. An exception must have been made in this case.

I was already enthralled by the black and white footage of the coming storm when Dorothy arrived in the Land of Oz and things burst into color. And then the music began.

I had found my answer.

The tornado of my home life offered no escape, no shelter. The cellar was just another place of danger. But now I knew that over the rainbow, there was hope and someday, like the bluebird, I would fly there.

It worked. More or less.

Much later, I learned that those who had five or even ten year goals were more likely to be happy and successful. At crucial points in my career, my personal life and my health care, I was asked about such goals. In other words, ‘Articulate your hopes.’ My instant response was “Beats me’, but, of course, I repressed that and made shit up.

So now I am old, not old old. I won’t be old old for 7 or 8 years, not even middle old, which I will be in 3 years. But old nevertheless. What are the possible goals of a hopeful 82-year-old? My immediate response, ‘Living to be 83’.

Until recently, I harbored a broken-winged hope that the world was evolving and becoming a better place, little by little. And that I had played a part in that.

Look what happened.

Now I’m reduced to the idea that life on this planet of pain is pendulum in nature – two steps forward, one step back. Or is it the other way around?

Really, this blog post is falsely advertised. It’s the old bait and switch. I have no faith that there is hope nor that it contradicts despair. In fact, hope of the over-the-rainbow kind is too broken to hold in hand. Yet I get up, stand up and go on, with no expectation of reward. Is it from some old hopeful habit or just an obstinate refusal to give in?

Wishful metaphors make fine poetry, but hope is a 4-letter word – patient, resolute, strong and defiant in the face of darkness.

 

 

 

Who’s your Psychopomp?

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA

As for qualifications, I have camped on the south shore of the Gulf of Corinth at the mouth of the River Styx and crossed it several times. So have all the other residents of Akratas. No that won’t do. (The Ancient Greeks believed that Charon, the boatman ferried them across the River Styx to the Underworld. They were buried with coins on their eyelids to pay him for his service.)

As a child, I was shut in boxes. Maybe that was my early training.

At a certain point in my life, the recently dead started turning up, usually sitting in a chair in the corner of my bedroom. Just sitting. Never talking. Or in my dreams, they phoned me, never saying anything sensible and never answering questions. My father’s spirit persistently offers advice such as ‘Buy lottery tickets’. He was a villain on earth, but he has spent 30 years on the other side and seems to be a reformed being. He even shows up at hospital bedsides to comfort those he once harmed. So they tell me.

Somewhere along the line, my family started to assume that I was a conductor of the dead, a psychopomp. They didn’t use that word of course. It is not a role I aspire to. At the moment, for example, I have a recurring image of a man who has passed over, but doesn’t believe in the afterlife. He is huddled in a fetal position with his ears covered, pretending he is not conscious. I repeat the 23rd Psalm to comfort him and, alternately, offer to give him a swift kick.

I’m not religious at this point, but I remembered that comforting song of David, and thought it might help – Josh, let’s call him Josh. If you feel inclined, you could join me in your own way, encouraging him to “Wake up! Wake up! It’s not so bad. You really are forgiven.”

When I uploaded my e-book, Hour of the Hawk, Amazon called ‘psychopomp’ a spelling error. An aberration, a delusion, perhaps, but not a spelling error.

Creating my main character, Joanna Hunter, I saddled her with that ‘ability’ as well as a conscience which speaks to her in her great aunt’s voice, admonishing her to fulfill her duty.

Her first duty is to attend to Tom Braddock who has been mauled to death, in his own backyard, by an angry bear. Well, of course an ‘angry bear’. He would hardly have been killed by a grateful, happy bear, even though he did persist in feeding his bear friends honey in a tire swing. And the bear had good reason for being angry, although not necessarily at Tom.

There are other deaths. It’s a murder mystery after all. But those Departed have enough imagination to manage on their own.

As you will, no doubt, when the time comes. Just be sure to cure yourself of the idea there is a hell. Pretty sure we are doing our stint there, right here on earth. Like my father we may have much to learn in the afterlife, but as a school it’s much more like Play Mountain Place than the boarding school Prince Charles attended. It seems to me, the afterlife can be whatever you think it is. With night school courses in empathy.

For heaven’s sake, don’t call on me to guide you.

To purchase Hour of the Hawk as an e-book go to joycehowe.com. It will be available as a paperback from Amazon in January 2018.

 

The Immense Heart and Mr Death

rumi quoteBlake turned 80, the first one in the family to do so, so Rob, who was visiting from Brussels and Georgia threw a small dinner party. The food was amazing – baked breaded shrimp with mango and chutney, salmon Provençal en croute, lobster ravioli, champagne – rose, for a change- lots of white wine and chocolate cake.  It was a laugh fest from beginning to end. Blake, an only child and war refugee, found himself teased by my siblings and knew he was family.

Then we said goodbye.

Rob, who was going home the next day, followed Blake and I out the door in his sock feet, despite the cold. He gave me a last hug and turned away. He might as well have spoken out loud. I heard his thought. We might not meet again.

For a while, his fear was based on the fact that I am 11 years older and had had cancer twice. Now that I have been cancer free for 13 years, he himself has melanoma. His doctor was not happy that he postponed treatment of an excised patch to come to see us. Meanwhile Blake is perking alone nicely with the latest prostate cancer drugs, free as it turns out, part of a study. He had just returned from a Caribbean cruise and was happier than he had ever been.

Grandpa Munn routinely bade us goodbye by declaring mournfully that he would probably be gone by the time we made the long trip back. Eventually, many years later, this turned out to be true.

My mother died after a 7-year bout with ovarian cancer, a few years afterwards. She had been horribly ill and deserved a break from it and her psychotic husband. I expected her spirit would show up in my house the way my other dead people did, even my father-in-law. When she didn’t do so, I fell into a deep depression and suffered what I call an existential breakdown, complete with hospitalization. I recovered, but for many years, I saw death as the grim reaper and my advancing age as his harbinger. Either there was no life after death or my mother didn’t love me.

This fear was so great that I tended to drop friendships with older people. Unfortunately, my son, Daniel, seems to have caught it. The older people he has dropped are his father, Blake, and me.

Eventually, after Blake and I divorced, I had a run-in with suicidal ideation. It wasn’t really about death, just a deep desire to stop hurting. A momentary vision of the future where I would be needed, the Suicide Help Line and the Salvation Army pulled me through.

Getting cancer settled the question once and for all. I definitely did not want to stop living in my body, no matter what.

This spring, I walked into my daughter’s new home in the Sierra Mountains and clearly heard my mother say, “This is nice.” So she shows up now, 38 years later. What the….?

She hung around, apparently swooping over the pines in the company of her 43 year-old grandson who had just passed on. He seemed to be 3 now, the age at which she first knew him, and quite happy to be flying loop-de-loops with her.

I was going to write this post anyway, but then Rob called me in tears this morning at 5 a.m. He had returned to Brussels to discover that his young friend, Julian, had died of an asthma attack.

I wrote last December about Julian, whom Rob was coaching in life skills, like controlling his temper and wearing his teeth. Julian had been left to institutional care, pretty much abandoned by his parents. He did his wash at Rob’s house, carried up wood for the fireplace, helped decorate the Christmas tree and showed up at awkward times. Rob had taken back a sweat shirt for him with “Toronto Alumna” written on it. My niece’s really but new and we figured Julian wouldn’t get that it was a girl’s. What was he to do with it, Rob asked me.

I am bowled over by how we four siblings, children of an extremely abusive home, all of whom nearly died at one point from that abuse, turned out to be so concerned with the welfare of others. We learn to give what we need, apparently, and Rob was a good “father” to Julian.

I don’t think of passing on in terms of Mr. Death, anymore. (Well, not for the moment anyway. Get me in a hospital room, I may revert.)

At present, it seems more like an approaching holiday, like Christmas feels ten days before, something glorious approaching. A very old priest I knew told me he felt like an excited kid about to start school. The old pictures of heaven are totally irrelevant to me. “Heaven” is just dwelling in love and being without a physical body will mean no opposition by space and time, more opportunity to look after loved ones. Sure growth happens in the body, but we can take our achievement with us.

I got over the angst of farewell by sitting down to begin writing a book I had in mind. We are keeping busy. Death will have to interrupt us.

As a family, we are scattered across two continents. Some of us don’t even speak. Yet we found each other across time and space. We have a long history with each other. We came together because of our long term love for those two outrageously dysfunctional people who were our parents. I think we saved them from what the church would call damnation. Not everyone agrees with me, but I feel my father’s help these days.

No force, not even that guy in the black top hat and tails is powerful enough to overcome love. It holds the stars in place.

MrDEath

Saving a Life: losing a friend

jim and IMon Frère et moi en Bruxelle

I feel like Dante after his epic journey through hell, purgatory and paradise. True I got to see the face of Grace and then to return home. But I’ve been spoiled. The paradise bit was full of light and love and joy. Once I got there, I was able to lift my eyes and love the pine-clad mountains and the pure light and air again. Home in TO sees a couple of hours daylight under gloomy skies. Something is always falling from the sky and the streets are slick with decaying leaves.

That’s not the worst of it. Two of the people I had counted on to welcome me home, to rejoice in our triumph and to console me for our ordeal are no-shows.

One is my son, whose sister’s life was just saved and who is on her way to being able to live a reasonably good life, if not to being cured. What we accomplished, in spite of MediCal and general incompetence, was a miracle, something to be celebrated. But this half of the family in Toronto is hived off into individual units. It begrudgingly pulls itself together for a funeral, if the relative is close enough, not apparently, for a good, boozy party of celebration.

The other is my friend, Sophie. Sophie is given to observing that she is glad she had cats instead of children, particularly since mine are so troublesome. What can anyone say to that? A cat can’t be Shakespeare. No, but listen, those children are unique and beautiful creations. They have made themselves who they are over decades. They have made many people’s lives better for knowing them. I don’t say any of that to her. I sympathize when an elderly cat has to be put down, as if it were an actual person. I inquire about the surviving feline, which drags its hind quarters.

In the midst of the worst or hellish part, Sophie suggested on the phone that it would be better for our patient if we let her go. A slip of the tongue I thought. But then she discovered that I had taken psychotropic drugs to survive the ordeal. “I wouldn’t speak to you, if I’d known,” she said. I’m still taking them of course. She has read a stupid book that maintains they don’t actually work and, despite her education, she believes it.

So she hasn’t called me back and that makes me sad.

Tomorrow, my brother, Rob, arrives from Brussels. “I thought I needed to come and cheer  you up and help you get back to your life,” he told me on the phone. I will pick him up at terminal 3 and take him to Georgia’s, where we will all have a sleep-over, along with two of my nieces. He will call me his little sister, even though I am older and make me laugh. The two of us have a reputation in Brussels for our comic routine. All we have to do is be in the same room and we’re off.

On Thursday, back on the mountain in Kern County, California, my son-in-law will turn chef again and make Thanksgiving dinner. Besides his recovering wife, my erstwhile house-mate Clara, my grandson Leo, his father -that would be an ex- and a friend will be there to raise a glass in glad thanksgiving that she lived, that she is thriving, that some doctors really are brilliant, that faith and dogged persistence and the odd temper tantrum can save a life.

PMC

 

Evidence of Things Unseen

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen,
Hebrews 11.1

Here in the mountains of Kern County, California, we have been struggling with serious illness since the first of June. Finally, we have found the right doctors, got the right diagnosis and medication that works. What still doesn’t work is the bureaucracy that is paying for the treatment.

To skip even one dose of the several medications is to court disaster and yet again and again we turn up at the small pharmacy -the only one less than an hour away- to discover that we are over the monthly limit of 5 prescriptions, that we have used too many pills of that kind this month (doctor had changed dosage), that we can’t get one or another for five days, until we get a TAR, until we get a PA, unless we phone in the day before, never mind that we have been calling for 4 days prior. On the latest occasion it was the last reason.

Okay, confession time, I lost it. I leaned over the counter and explained as quietly as I was able, the possible dire consequences, the least of these was hospitalization. I was assured that the pharmacy had our best interests at heart, blah, blah,blah. That they just didn’t carry that medication and it would be ordered in only if we phoned the day before. Too much smiling from the other side of the counter. Too much eye shadow come to that.

“Consider it ordered,” I said.

The patient had fled to the car. I was so upset, I couldn’t actually see.

“Here are the other prescriptions,” said the Cheryl the clerk. “That will be $137.”

Whaaaa?

Blindly, I undid the bag and began to read the labels. The whole point was that the patient couldn’t pay for meds. As one of the meds’ monitors, I know every med name and dosage. None of these were familiar.

“These are not ours,” I said, pointing to the patient’s name. In fact they were for the patient’s mother-in-law, but I was too annoyed to bother saying that.

Cheryl’s eyes bugged out. As I left, I could hear her saying, “I can’t believe I….”

Next day, after 4 p.m., I drove back down the winding mountain road, to pick up the prescriptions. Yes, one was made up, although the other less urgent one wasn’t. As I waited for it to be done, I stood at the check-out counter.

Cheryl leaned over and said,” I just want to say…. I couldn’t sleep last night. I didn’t know what to do. I felt so bad. Finally, I decided to pray..”

She went on almost in a whisper, quoting a Bible verse with apologies because she really didn’t have it quite right, but it had to do with God’s help when you hit the bottom.

I touched her hand to reassure her. “Of all the problems we have had here, that was the least,” I said. “But thank you for praying. I’m not much good at it, but others are also praying.”

“God hears all prayers,” she replied.

Cheryl is one of those fervent Christians that scare us a little with their right wing views. Our idea of God is much more indwelling, not an all-powerful father or a son that will save you if only you surrender and believe. Perhaps, all things are possible, but they start within our hearts, we think and when you are grappling with life and death, God’s idea of an ideal outcome may not coincide with yours.

That night as I began to fall asleep, I felt the earnest love Cheryl radiated comfort me and  smooth a path for loving support from beyond.

The nature of God and our different interpretations of it seemed irrelevant then. Trying to have faith in God, too daunting. Faith in love that is another matter, our family’s loving and unconditional support of the patient, my own 5 month sojourn far from home, our 24/7 commitment, the wonderful doctors we have finally found, even those drugs with their unpleasant side effects. These are born of love.

And the best prayers may be tears.

Eros, the God of Love and Psyche, the Soul

psyche and eros(The myth of Psyche and Eros, the god of love, is found in the Roman Apuleius’s novel Metamorphoses or The Golden Ass, about 150 CE. The myth was retold by C S Lewis in his novel Til We Have Faces, 1956, written in conjunction with his wife Joy Davidson. In the story, Eros forbade his love Psyche to look upon his face.)

 

Becoming Psyche (an interim stage) (2011)

Fathomless grief has washed me clean,
Dissolved the clenching that
I once called me.
I have courted this relief, but
Now, emptied of all I was,
I cry out against the loss,
Not helplessly begging some god
To fill the void, but
Asking, rather, to know that I am already full.

Let me see you, I pray.
Be clearly present,
Be presently clear.
Show your reflection in this empty glass,
Give voice to silence,
Share this solitary bed.

Grief has wrought this marriage
To the soul,
But Eros has forbidden me
To look upon his face.

Being Pysche (2014)

The signs were someone else’s
-so I thought-
the Chinese talisman she drew, the tiny owl,
Minerva’s messenger.
Then Hades lured her down,
lost Proserpine,
into his underworld.
No chance of spring.

I forgot to seek the face of God
I sought her face instead.

Yet she returned; spring rose
and looking up I saw
my own face in a glass, no longer empty.

“I love you and I trust you.”
For days the words went with me.

Then one dawn,
I heard a singing in my head,
A man’s voice, full of longing.
“The water is wide and I can’t swim over.”

Two such longings bridge an ocean.

All day, it sang, until I fell in love.

Lying down to sleep,
flashes of brilliant gold
above my eyes.

Gift of the underworld-
the god of love has shown his face.

Joyce A Hood

(All the mythological references can be found on-line.)

Valentine’s Day: reconsidered

Romantic love has co-opted February 14th. Hard to believe that is what St. Valentine was all about,although Wikipedia would have us believe that he championed courtly love. Just to be clear courtly love is all about poetry and wearing a lady’s favour, not something sweaty.

It’s turned into a festival of red roses and chocolate. And heartbreak. Not evough cards in the classroom valentine box. No engagement ring again this year. He/she actually forgot. That convenience store bouquet. Dinner out in a much too crowded restaurant with bad service. The roses you bought for yourself drooped over next day.

Let’s re-conceive the idea.

Valentine’s Day is the celebration of love, the feast of the god of love or God of Love, if you prefer. Whether that is Eros or something other dude, up to you. Change the gender if it helps. Now let’s take a look.

Feel your most beautiful feeling. Remember it. Imagine it. Picture its beauty. The full moon in August hanging over the Tioga Pass is a good one. The effervescent foam on the moonlit gulf of Corinth. Use your own.

Now focus deeply within.

Perhaps you will hear yourself say “You are more beautiful.  More beautiful than all the red roses, all the red hearts, all the chocolate given and received. More beautiful than sunlight. More beautiful than warmth on a snowy day. More beautiful than _____(name a recent or beloved new born baby.) More beautiful than ____ (name your most beloved animal and/or person).” You get the drift. Just keep piling it on, naming gardens and places, islands, mountains, individuals, whatever warms your heart.

Does it happen? Do you begin to know that that great beauty and love lives there? Repeat as necessary.

Love does dwell within.

 

 

Cheering for the Underdog: Gladwell’s David and Goliath

Did you consider calling your son, Goliath? Would you tell him to go to the best university possible? If he were murdered, could you forgive his killer?

Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book is David and Goliath: underdogs, misfits and the art of battling giants.

David is one of my favourite names. It means “beloved of God” and denotes a hero and a poet. In 1 Samuel 17, we read of David’s exploit as a young shepherd sent to take food to his brothers in the front lines of Saul’s army as they face off against the army of the Philistines across the Eloh valley. Things are at a standoff. Neither army will venture down from the safety of the hills. While David is there, the giant Goliath, armed to the teeth with spear, sword, and javelin and wearing full body armour and helmet, issues a call to single combat. When no other Israellite answers it. David steps up. He declines Saul’s armour and runs toward Goliath with his sling whipping. The rest is history.

Gladwell examines the situation, citing scholarly literature, ballistics specialists, medical experts and geological facts. Goliath, who appears invulnerable, actually has serious limitations and David, who appears so vulnerable, actually has significant advantages. In fact, it would have been more surprising if David had lost.

Power is not always triumphant. Giants can be felled.

Gladwell goes on to consider how a disadvantage, like having dyslexia or losing a parent at a young age can have a positive effect. Twelve of the first 44 presidents of the United States, from Washington to Obama, lost their fathers at an early age. (p. 142) Emiel ‘Jay’ Freireich who pioneered a cure for childhood leukemia lost his father and had a truly awful childhood. The strategies we develop to cope with our disadvantages have a way of lifting us out of the ordinary. If….

My own life illustrates the “if” – if at least one person in the situation, the brutal childhood, for example, supports and believes in you. My Aunt Mae did that for me and my sister and we were able to pass it on to our siblings.

Then he tackles advantages like getting into a great university. Trouble is even if you are very bright, you may find yourself feeling stupid compared to your classmates because they are even brighter. Discouraged, you may drop out, whereas, if you had been satisfied with your second choice, you would have stayed the course.

One chapter considers the trickster in folk mythology and how enslaved people saw Bre’er Rabbit as a model for dealing with oppression. It’s all about not getting thrown into the briar patch. Oh, please Mr. Bull Connor, not the briar patch. A careful examination of an iconic photo – a police dog attacking a boy – astonishes.

Throughout the book, Gladwell uses the u-shaped graph to show that good effects can result up to a certain point, but past it, things go down hill. He relates this to class size, California’s Three Strikes Law, and even wealth itself.

The Nazis bombed London night after night expecting to demoralize the people into defeat. Churchill and his researchers had predicted this would happen. Mental hospitals were standing ready. Didn’t happen. Rather the opposite. Londoners remained calm and carried on. The looneybins stood empty. Has to do with the difference between a near miss, which is very traumatic, and a remote miss. People who survive a remote miss, and they were in the majority, actually conclude “that wasn’t so bad”: they have defeated fear.

Two of the most affecting stories are those of great forgiveness and great courage. A mother forgives her daughter’s murderer and a group of Huguenots in a remote area of France not only defy authorities during the German occupation but send a letter to the Vichy government saying, “We feel obliged to tell you that there are among us a certain number of Jews.” And they prevailed.

What a hopeful and encouraging short read.

The Cure for Fear

Okay, I should be asleep. I need to be. I want to get up early. Things to do. May actually be getting something, (When am I not?) But I have this great opportunity, which I am going to lose tomorrow. I am uncertain and afraid. Tomorrow I will call my oncologist. If my appointment is moved forward to next week instead of the week after, I know the lump that we’ve detected needs further study.

Blake and I were sitting in Starbucks in the lobby of Toronto General, gazing back at the Art Deco facade of Princess Margaret Hospital from which we had just jaywalked.

“Even if I do get an immediate call-back it could still be A or B. That would have to be determined,” I say.

“Or it could be C,” Blake quips.

“Oh, it could very well be C,” and I have to laugh.

Yes, well,  we have just spent two hours waiting to hear Blake’s test results with regard to C. They weren’t bad, but then they weren’t good either. It’s the usual seesaw game of prostrate cancer. Knock down the PSA score and the testosterone with hormones. Ease off. Watch the PSA rise again. Today, it was decided that it was time to go back to the heavy ammunition. Not easy news for the manly Blake, but excellent news in that the drugs have improved since last time and he is line to get this extremely expensive medication for free.

Not many men in the clinic bring along their ex-wives probably, but Blake’s young second wife was carried off by cancer two years ago. So he and I are embarked on this mutual study of mortality.

Much else has been happening this week. My brother Rob underwent knee replacement in Brussels. My daughter and her husband declared bankruptcy and their home is about to be foreclosed on. True this “disaster” has opened up their lives and led them to a prospective mountain home. My grandson, Leo, who has to get his driver’s license or lose his job, has his own test redo to deal with. I had enough fear to go round.

So I kept up my mantra, “I love you and I trust you.” Initially, I just mouthed the words, but gradually I realized what they meant. Driving down to the hospital today, I found it had morphed into, “I love you. I know you are pure love. I trust love.”

Blake and I, out of nothing but pure love, created a home, two children and careers that supported us. An excellent foundation for this present project.

At home, afterward, I read Rumi’s poetry (Rumi: The Book of Love, trans. Coleman Barks). One section is called “Tavern Madness” and the poems in it are about the ‘drunkenness’ of the overwhelming contact with the divine. Dinners in our home were full of such non-alcoholic ‘drunken’ conversations, full of revelation and confidence in our vision of life.

Rumi says: I didn’t come here of my own accord
                  And I can’t leave that way.
                  Whoever brought me here will have to take me home.

I love the way, poetry lets you work things out for yourself. And I love the idea of surrender to the steady shoulder that is capable of supporting my staggering self.

In another poem, Rumi says, I am the clear consciousness core of your being,                                              The same in ecstasy
                                             As in self-hating fatigue.

And so, I came around to an open heart and fear dissolved.