A Hundred Days of Solitude: chpt 6

Blake is still just sleeping.

Day 150: but whose counting?

I could actually go out according to stage 3 rules of pandemic. I could go to a bar. I like sitting at Cagney’s with a glass of Butternut Chardonnay. With a book. At the short end where there is just enough light to read. Three guys will be sitting in the middle of the long side, separately, one talking to the owner, another flirting with the barmaid. Cagney’s is a Greek restaurant, oddly, and the owner goes to California to get wines no one else imports. It was tough discovering in the early days of the pandemic shut-down that this was the only hobby which got me out of the house. It was tough that the bars were closed for nearly five months. It was also tough that I had to stop drinking. Something about medication and continual dizziness.

But I don’t. Go out.

I get dizzy listening to the statistics. We are leveled off here in Toronto, fewer cases, fewer deaths. For now. I’ve given up keeping track of the deaths and hospitalizations in the U.S. I packed it in around 100,000 departed souls. No the statistic that bothers me is the one that tells me my chances of succumbing. I am 84 and apparently have a 75% chance of surviving. That seemed like good odds when I had cancer. Not anymore. Surviving Covid-19 is an adventure I want to skip. If I want to drown, I’ll just jump in the pool, I’m that bad a swimmer.

So I stay in. Except for weekly early seniors’ hour at the supermarket.

I spend the better part of an hour every day in the mountains of Kern County, California. Via Facetime. My daughter calls every day, realizing that I’m in solitary for my own protection. I know the place well and some of the people and I have her catalogue what’s she’s doing  there. The mornings are getting cold at 6000 ft. Autumn already on the wind. And some days I spend Facetime in a suburb of Brussels, which has seen a rise in cases and less freedom of movement. My brother’s bubble seems to be quite large, but as I reported in chapter 2, he also seems to have had Covid. I see my sister up the street a few times a week without aid of device, but we thrash over Trump every night on the phone. We should be suffering over our Prime Minister’s charity scandal, but the fate of the world is not riding on it. (The first 5 posts are available at 115journals.com.)

Last time, I talked about my idea of destiny https://115journals.com/2020/07/30/a-hundred-days-of-solitude-chpt-5/

In that post, I proposed the idea that we signed up for our roles in life before we undertook incarnation, and that as bits and pieces of God, we had a role in planning events as well. I pondered whether some souls put up their hands to play bad guy. It seemed to me that all types of experience were necessary throughout our many incarnations.

(There are several references in the Bible to reincarnation which the early censors failed to catch.)

I talked to a friend about this idea and she was equally convinced that souls fell into the role of villain through lack of awareness. The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Soygal Rinpoche’s The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying and  Robert Thurman’s Infinite Life among other books teach us the stages of dying, usually pictured as different kinds of light ending in the vast clear light of consciousness. It is essential to see that light in order to choose your next reincarnation wisely. Confused souls are swept willy-nilly into the next life. This is the way people find themselves incarnating as foundlings who grow into psychopaths or bad painters who found evil empires or rich boys who are given no love or spiritual grounding and become men without empathy. These books encourage us to meditate on this path to clear light so we are prepared when the time comes.

I find that I can’t even keep the stages in order and my experience with death tells me that it’s not  the only route. My father, who was the foundling, was not even likeable and even thoroughly evil and yet, I loved him. Before he died, he made an act of contrition, calling each of the children he could get hold of and saying ‘Sorry’.  I watched his cruel death. While many others wished him in hell, I knew that heaven makes no judgement. He had put in his time in hell on earth, as most of us do. I knew that he had been welcomed and that his nature there was as pure and good as it had been when he was born in a New Hampshire work house and sold to a ‘nice couple’. Years after his death, he appeared at the bedside of a loved one who was in the grip of acute psychotic terror. He assured her he was there to protect her. It was he, of course, who had caused the terror when she was a child.

In another case, a young-gish woman died in a state of rage, which no doubt prevented her from sorting out firefly light from moonlight or clear light. Almost instantly, several of us were aware of a great love she was sending back to us. We had striven to help her on her way, but the people closest to her fastened on her anger and grieved without consolation.

And then there was Blake, my ex-husband, whom we sat beside for ten days. He was grumpy with his pain and childlike, still arguing that he should be able to drive when he got out of hospital. Eventually, he sank into a sort of coma. We didn’t stop talking to him. The ‘girlfriend’, who said old men disgusted her, got into arguments with staff and had to be led away for private chats. His son and step-daughter talked to him and held his hand. I read him Rumi poetry and sang when we were alone. On the last day, we were all 4 there, telling stories about him. He could be very funny, sometimes intentionally. So we laughed a great deal. And cried too. As his executor, I was ready for my final duties, but when he shuddered out that last breath, I lost it. I could barely remember how to dial the undertaker, I was so shaken, So shaken, that I forgot his clothes and he went to the fire wearing a blue hospital gown.

My sister reported that he made an aerial pass through her living room that night, blue gown flying, clearly in bliss. The next glimpse we got of him, he was hurrying off to an advanced physics class, completely absorbed in his tablet and books.

Blake was not spiritually woke in his last years. He had some dementia. He left me his confirmation Bible, which he never, ever read. I have the King James Bible, the New English Bible, the NIV Study Bible and the Amplified Bible, so he thought I was the right recipient. He knew that to me the Bible was literature. He left his fervent wishes for Bernie Sanders, who was still in the running, and a colossal mess in his home and his affairs. I have cursed him many times as we sorted it out, but Blake is preparing to come back and implement a universal wage. Presumably, he will branch into advanced economics next semester.

Which is to say, with all due respect to the Dalai Lama, the Rinpoches and Thurman, that there are many ways to pass and not get swept into the gutter next time.

Having helpers is useful. I have chanted with the Taoists for the departed. I have lit candles and prayed by myself. During the pandemic, I have been very conscious of the dying and the dead. There is an army of us thinking and praying for them. And Angels. I worried initially about dying sedated on a ventilator. No worry now. I’ve opted out. DNR. At the worst, I’d just die sedated. Now I think it doesn’t matter. We don’t need religion to show us the way. And we don’t need to be there with a check list: “there goes the moonlight, clear light coming up.” We don’t even need mental health, although the one necessary thing may lead to that. All we need is love.

 

 

 

A Hundred Days of Solitude: chpt 5

Laocoon and his sons destroyed by sea serpents

A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells the story of seven generations of the Buendia family, which founded the riverside town on Macondo in the jungle of Columbia. In the first generation the isolated town has no outside contact except for an annual visit from a Gypsy band. It is a place where the inexplicable can happen and ghosts are commonplace. Many misfortunes befall the Buedias, all of which it turns out have been predicted. It is a long book, perfect if you are still, like me, a coronavirus shut-in.
********

“We are not here to be happy,” he said. He was a Catholic priest. I was a child. It wasn’t part of a sermon. I seem to be with a small group of children, standing around him. This is odd, since I grew up in Quebec, which was like Northern Ireland in those days, and I was Protestant. I was appalled to hear him say that. Of course, we were here to be happy. Jesus had pretty much confirmed that. The priest didn’t elaborate, leaving me to puzzle it out for the next 7 decades.

Which brings us to 2020 and Covid-19 among other things.

We thought we were living in end times when Donald J. Trump got hold of the most powerful office on the planet. Then we couldn’t breathe.

Because of my advanced age, I have been shut in for 140 days, except for essential shopping and visits to my sister and niece, part of my bubble since Day 78. Even then we wore masks and distanced. Lately, we have taken off the masks to eat together. We expect to live like this for a long while. I am 24% likely to die of Covid. Here in Canada, we have had about 9,000 deaths, but 2,000 have been elders in care homes. Note to self: stay out of care homes.

Tough on people who are praying to a merciful God. Had that experience as a child. We were 4 children, born over an 11 year period. I was oldest. Our childhoods taught us to be nimble, heart-broken, witty and kind. It was a mercy we all survived and a mercy that we have done as much good as we have. And we are all still here. Perhaps mercy is just a long term project.

Is this calamity destiny or the will of God? Is this pandemic and uprising for social justice part of a plan? Is that what is in operation now? There are 8 billion of us on the planet Earth. Is that just too many? Is nature just weeding the garden? Or is this a struggle between good and evil? In the midst of darkness has a greater darkness descended?

Some of us have had the leisure to consider such questions. Not the parents who have had to juggle home-schooling, home-office work and housekeeping, nor the essential workers who have risked their lives, but people like me, who have spent nearly 5 months in solitude.

CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) devised a secret plan to counteract riots here once the shut-down for the pandemic was announced. They took it upstairs. The higher-ups more or less laughed as I would have and canned the plan. Old joke: how do you get 50 frolicking Canadians out of a pool? You stand on the deck and say, ‘Please get out of the pool.” Of course we stayed home, as did Washington and California and other states, one by one. Lately, it has become clear that we have to wear masks if we want to shop. We wear masks. We don’t argue. Mostly. They are hot and not comfy. Ventilators are way worse.

That was my first glimpse of universal responsibility and open-heartedness. It was something like I saw as a child in World War II. Then there were the healthcare workers in New York City, working without PPE and in overcrowded conditions. They were getting sick and dying, but so were people, particularly immigrants, in less elevated jobs. I thanked the delivery people and the shop workers sincerely. They were out in the midst of it, while I was safe at home.

Their devotion and self-sacrifice cast light right across the globe. On dark days as the number of infected grew and bodies were stacked in refrigerator trucks and ice rinks and in mass graves, that love for each other, for absolute strangers, lit the darkness.

I had managed to figure out that the priest meant that we are here not to enjoy ourselves but to evolve, to become better people. I had had losses which felt unbearable, but eventually, made me a less self-centered person, more capable of empathy, of fellow feeling.

I wonder if he was a Jesuit. It seems Jesuitical.

The 13th century Sufi poet Jelaluddin Rumi takes a different tack and says that the soul is here for its own joy, that we are here to make God a reality. An acquaintance of mine says that in me, for example, God is experiencing godhood as an 84-year-old woman. But Rumi also says, “The rule is, Suffer the pain.
Your desire must be disciplined,
and what you want to happen
in time sacrificed.   (Coleman Barks: Rumi, the Book of Love, p.98)
He compares the soul to a newly skinned hide, “bloody and gross”, that has to be worked manually and with the “bitter tanning acid of grief” to become beautiful and strong. Rumi tells of “‘the Friend’ who knows more than you do,” who “will bring difficulties and grief and sickness,/ as medicine, as happiness, as the moment /when you’re beaten, when you hear Checkmate/ and can finally say with Hallaj’s voice,/ I trust you to kill me.”
(Barks: p. 127) (Al-Hallaj Mansour was martyred in Bagdad in 922,)

I suppose you have to believe in soul or the higher self to begin to make sense of these ideas, although the past five months may have moved even atheists closer to that belief. It seems as though Rumi is talking about something like the will of God. It might feel imposed but, in fact, the suffering is what a best friend sees is needed. This ‘will of God’ is rooted in love.

It is easier to see that in operation in the Black Lives Matter movement. It is not surprising that the urge for a fairer, more just society arose when it did. Most of us were paying attention. We felt helpless against the coronavirus but not so helpless against the injustice of George Floyd’s murder.

I am surprised and glad to find my close friends agree with my refinement of the will of God idea. You may find it a step too far. It seems to me that before we came into incarnation we helped to formulate these plans and volunteered for our own role. We have forgotten that for the most part and so we are not necessarily prepared for a sudden and early departure. We may be more ready to spend our lives in the service of others even though we think we made that decision for practical reasons toward the end of our education.

The corollary of that is, of course, that some of us have volunteered to play bad guy. Hitler, for example or my father. Imagine this pre-incarnated being madly waving its arm: I’ll be a  psychotic sociopath and cause millions to suffer and die. (My father’s score didn’t measure up to Hitler’s by the way.) Somebody had to do it. Does it go all the way down to invisible viruses? “I’ll be that one! I’ll do that.”

I have periodic collapses. My nerves give out around the dinner hour news. When I seek encouragement, one or other of these friends responds, “Stop worrying. We all signed up for this.” or “It’s all already happened.” It’s hard to be a witness. Even if we see what’s coming, we can’t change it. To try to do so would make things worse.

Laocoon, priest of Poseidon, tried to change the history of Troy by exposing the ruse of the wooden horse, in which were hidden Ulysses and his Greek cohorts. Poseidon sent sea serpents to destroy him and his sons. It was fated that the Greeks would prevail and Troy would fall.

Seers only
witness
to avoid
forfeiture

Sinche, Sinche (too much) celaidermontblog.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Hundred Days of Solitude: chpt 3

The View -day after day- from my tower. (Taken after the Snowbirds, flew over to cheer us up, peutetre)

A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells the story of seven generations of the Buendia family, which founded the riverside town on Macondo in the jungle of Columbia. In the first generation the isolated town has no outside contact except for an annual visit from a Gypsy band. It is a place where the inexplicable can happen and ghosts are commonplace. Many misfortunes befall the Buedias, all of which it turns out have been predicted. It is a long book, perfect if you are still, like me, a coronavirus shut-in.

********

 HANK WILLIAM’S ADVICE

I asked Hank Williams, how lonely can it get?
Hank Williams hasn’t answered me yet,
But I hear him coughing all night long
A hundred floors above me in the Tower of Song. (Leonard Cohen)

My tower is actually named after a British city and it doesn’t have that many stories. I don’t write songs, but I could perhaps answer the question.

In the beginning, I actually feel lonely, abandoned, bereft. Sometimes I cry. Once or twice I howl. By Easter that has pretty well stopped. I am like the baby who figures out crying is useless.

Day 31: Easter arrives while it is still hard lock-down. Although I’m not a church-going Christian, I am still a cultural one. Easter is the most important church festival. It has always been a family time. My sister’s family is large with children of all ages. We usually drive north to Barrie where the long table is loaded with every vegetable available and roast ham. There is wine and laughter.

This year my sister, my niece and I are in our separate dwellings a few blocks apart. My niece has a sore throat. She is isolating to protect her mother. Normally, they treat each other as a family cohabiting. I order dessert from Sweet Things. The Door Dash delivery guy even comes up to the 14th floor. I drive to my sister’s, call her, she comes down in her N95 mask and I hand two desserts to her.  I come home and eat my key lime pie.

At a certain point, I feel so unseen that I am disappearing.

Day 2 – Day infinity: What to do? What to do?

The eastern sages that live in caves advise us that even the contemplative life must have a routine. I can do that, I think. I go to sleep at midnight, after reading in bed for an hour or more. I get up at 8. I pull myself together. I exercise as much as my body and a 950 Sq. ft. apartment permits. I eat breakfast while I read the news on my phone.

The rest of the day? What was I doing before? I was actually writing two books, a second memoir following Never Tell and a second mystery following Hour of the Hawk. The original two need to be marketed on line. https://www.joycehowe.com/books Many people are reading e-books with libraries closed. So go for it! Are you kidding? The world is ending, at least the world as we knew it. Why does it need another memoir of my abusive birth family? And now that woman has been pushed off a cliff in Kern County in my second mystery, I have no idea who did it? It took two people to get rid of her car, but what two people?

I’ve furloughed my cleaner. She also works in an essential retail store. So I have to do my own cleaning. It takes her 2 hours. It takes me 2 hours times 4 days. But I celebrate that I can do it at all and thank Cymbalta. I also decide my sister is right – an ironed pillow case is divine. The next thing I know I am ironing sheets and shirts and masks. Stop now!

I watch television. At first CNN is on all day. At lunch and dinner I watch Netflix, a documentary called Pandemic, which shows in six parts how ” tireless doctors and scientists” have been working for many years to learn how to make a vaccine for novo viruses. Each episode is episodic featuring several teams and one home-schooling anti-vaxxer and her many children. I take a vow to have the flu shot this year. I stopped getting shots because they make me sick, possibly because they are egg based. But this year, I’ll put up with that AND I will get a Covid shot as soon as I can. The scientists in the show spend a lot of time in full gear in bat caves. In general, it builds confidence, especially in Bill Gates’ money. I also watch Tiger King. God help me! Then I turn from Netflix to Acorn, which streams British, Australian and New Zealand shows. I love a good mystery. Whereas Netflix has taught me German, Finnish, Swedish and Russian, I learn Welsh English, even Welsh, Cornish, Irish and heavy, heavy Scots. I already knew how to decipher Australian and Kiwi.

I read. On the serious side, I read Susan Cain’s Quiet: The power of introverts. Probably I’m an introvert at heart. I needed to rest up after a day in the classroom before I could get dinner and relate to my family; however, I was able to avail myself of the ‘free trait’ and act out of character on the stage or in front of a class or even at dinner. Being introverted is an excellent trait to have when you have to stay home for months.

I frog march myself through John Bolton’s The Room Where it Happened, bending my brain around references to American foreign policy. I am testing a theory – is Donald Trump as incompetent as he seems. Then I read Mary Trump’s Too Much and Never Enough. Even without his suggestion that we ingest bleach to cure Covid, these two books confirm my opinion. I am terrified of coronavirus, and I am terrified of this man knowing the nuclear codes. As time goes on and the U.S. cases start to climb in Florida, Arizona, California again and Texas – oh my babies – the two anxieties come together.

I trade mystery titles with my California daughter and find them on my library’s website. I run through all of Mick Heron’s MI 5 books, which are satirical and funny and intriguing and sad. https://115journals.com/2020/04/19/slow-time-slow-horses-the-slough-house-spies/ I write a blog post about them. I read the SoHo mysteries, set in different countries: Thomas Perry, Dan Fesperson, Ken Bruen, Denise Mina, Mark Pryor, Colin Cotterill, Stuart Neville, and thus I travel to the British Isles, Germany, Russia, the U.S., Thailand, Laos. I read to rest during housework or cooking, but the last hour of the day is sacrosanct reading time and I end up lying my head down at midnight.

I don’t know Alice. What was the question?

As Alice lay dying, she seized Gertrude Stein’s hand and said, “Oh, Gertrude, what is the answer?” Gertrude replied, “I don’t know, Alice. What was the question?”

Then there is Leonard Cohen’s answer in The Tower of Song, “Dum de dum dum, de de dum dum.”

Alice wanted to know the meaning of life. Curiously, that becomes an urgent question as we contemplate death.  Part of what Aunt Mae taught my sister and me was that a person could have several possible exit dates. I have had a few close calls, which led me to read Robert Thurman and Sogyal Rinpoche and the Dalai Lama and Rumi. Now the shocking death tolls in our local long term care homes wake me up.

I had forgotten.

I know the way back – gratitude for the helpers, who are risking their lives and dying to help the sick, empathy for the dead and the dying and the ill – all isolated from their family’s support. I can leap on that train and ride it until I disappear into a universal cloud of love. In the morning, energy too low for that, I recite the Twenty Third Psalm by King David, for whom I named my son. Especially the last lines ground me:
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies
Thou annointest my head with oil. My cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

A Hundred Days of Solitude still to come – those darned visions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Watching the Breath: listening to the light

Day 93: Yes, I know there are other people still locked down. Steven Colbert was last week. Possibly, my region can be opened up this week, but the last I heard cases of Covid-19 were still going up, especially in my suburb. Although, honestly, it won’t make much difference to me, given my advanced age and the nearly 20% chance that it will be fatal if I catch it.

For the first three weeks, I didn’t leave my apartment, but then grocery delivery stopped working. You could order a large number of things and sit up until 12 a.m. to get a delivery slot, four nights in a row and never get one. Conclusion – I had had too few children, the two I had were wanderers and I would have to scuttle out before daylight and buy my own.

So for three months, I have been staring out my high windows at the sky, my feet touching earth once a week to hunt and gather. The good news is it’s now daylight at 6:50 a.m.

I know everyone has had different stresses and pressures. I’m grateful I wasn’t shut up with the man I married nor our children who needed the challenge of strenuous exercise to keep from killing each other. We were both teachers, and good at it, except with our own offspring, who tended to run screaming from the room when their father tried to teach them algebra.

So there’s that to be grateful for.

I also know there are many, many single people who have got to the end of their rope, like me, around 9 p.m. when they haven’t heard another voice all day. Except of course on television. I am proud of the fact that so far I have had only one real panic attack caused by a sudden vision of burning cities and gunfire. We had already had some of that, but this was worse and involved Trump’s rally in Tulsa. I called Georgia my sister, who was puzzled because I couldn’t speak. Finally and with no sociological reference, I managed, “I can’t breathe.” It was a doozy combining all the symptoms of suffocation, heart attack, food poisoning and seizure-like spasms.

Georgia said in a kindly, scolding voice, “You know we all signed up for this. Every last one of us. We made an agreement to take on these roles – victim or killer or Covid patient. We came to do these things, to learn a certain lesson. Anyway, it’s all already happened.”

Now you may not agree with Georgia’s view of destiny, which we undertake pre-incarnation. I’m not altogether sure that I do. At the time,  it seemed a wise idea, although I nearly drew the line at it had “already happened”.

Half an hour later I had calmed down.

Next day I checked in with my daughter in California and she seconded everything Georgia had said, despite the fact that the two of them have barely spoken for forty years. I still want to nail them down about the simultaneity of time. Certain times I absolutely do not want to ever encounter again.

Such as this one.

Thank goodness for household chores that ground me, thank you for Face Time and video calling and even telephones, thank you for television – for  news channels and Netflix and Acorn, thank you for e-books and library loans by internet, thank you for socially distanced chats in Georgia’s backyard and drive-by birthday parties and thank you for the strange experience of being a monk in a mountain cave.

I had read a lot about these chaps in my study of Buddhism and Taoism. I knew that they depended on routine. That seemed an odd way to organize nothing, but I leapt to the task. One of my first daily tasks is to put my hair in order. It was last cut in late January. I wear it short, very short, usually. Now it is half way down my long neck and curling up in an awkward reverse pageboy. This morning I found myself saying, “Fuzzy-wuzzy was a bear..”

Both Georgia and my daughter are fond of reminding me to breathe. I, of course, always respond in my robot voice, “What is breathe?” “Watch your breath,” my daughter says. “And listen”.

I can see about 50 miles of horizon out my floor-to-ceiling windows. The view’s horizon is the shore of Lake Ontario. The photo above does show a line of darker blue that is the water. In the east, I can see the C.N. Tower in downtown Toronto and in the west, I can see the height of the Niagara Escarpment, the only height in this flat land. I particularly love Rattlesnake Point there and longed to go there for the long weeks of shut-in.

I used to live in a ground floor apartment in a triplex. There were bushes and flowers, trees and birds at my level. Now my view is of doll house roofs and tree tops. And sky. I have taken to noticing the change in light throughout the day. At the moment the ground is all green kodachrome while the sky is light blue fading to white over the lake. I have watched a line-squall suddenly tear through with floods of rain and tree-bending winds. I have watched its darkness leave just as suddenly to lash the city. I have remembered the names of clouds from my sailing days and the weather they presaged.

I have sat in absolute stillness listening to the quiet.

At dawn this morning, I dreamed of a man who loved me when I was young, a tweedy grad student who smoked a pipe and wrote me love poetry. I liked him well enough, and spent time with my roommate in the house he lived in with other grad students. It was good to get way from residence food and rules. We laughed and pretended to be intellectuals. After I left university, he called me to invite me to a cousin’s wedding Friday night two days hence. He had tracked me down at Blake’s home. I said I was sorry I couldn’t go. He said, “I suppose you have something important on.” He could be snarky. “Well, yes,” I said reluctantly. “I’m getting married.” I may have named my son after him, although I spelled it differently and reasoned it was my grandmother’s maiden name. He died young, in his forties, of a brain tumour. I didn’t learn that until years later, by which time I was divorced.

“I thought you knew,” my ex-roommate said when she told me. “We thought you were the woman in the veil who came late to the funeral and sat in the back row.”

Last night, he turned up in my dream. We were both still young. He was working in a hospital in Toulon, he said. That was odd, considering he had studied physics.Then he enfolded me in an enormous hug. His body was more substantial than it had ever been and he held me tightly for a long time. So thank you, Brian, after all these months I needed that human touch.

 

 

 

Waiting for the Bullet: Diary of a Dead Man on Leave

David Downing takes the title of his latest spy novel, Diary of a Dead Man on Leave from a Comintern expression roughly equivalent to the American saying “dead man walking”, which describes a prisoner condemned to death. Spies for the Soviet Union expected to be eliminated eventually, often by their own side.

Josef, the narrator of the diary is a German national, returned from South America to Hamm, Germany to foment revolution there. He has seen the inside of prison in his previous assignment, but in Hitler’s Germany in 1938, prison is the least of his worries. Any Germans with communist ideas have learned to keep their head down or even to espouse the ideals of the fascist German Social Democracy party, which Hitler heads.

It seemed appropriate that my library hold on this ebook should come through in the first week of March 2020, given the news.

In this winter of my 84th year I have been battling chronic pain in the first place and the side effects of the medication that alleviated it in the second. Briefly, the meds worked brilliantly, except they made me seasick. I staggered about, trying not to throw up, but reluctant to quit them because of their good effect.

At the same time, news of the novel corona virus came at me from every direction. I live in Toronto, where SARs made itself at home in 2002-3 and I knew people affected. The good news being touted was that Covid-19 was not as deadly as SARs. The other good news was that it could be mild, didn’t seem to affect children and most of the people who died were elderly.

Just a minute – that’s me.

The average age of those who have died at this date is 80. Those over 80 have over a 20.5% chance of dying from it, according to WHO’s February figures. I tried to put that in perspective. Twenty of one hundred 80-year-olds who caught it died. The other one presumably became a zombie. No, no, stupid, you have to think in terms of 200. Forty one of them died. Okay. Got it.

Well, should I even bother hoarding toilet paper. The average age of those hospitalized was 60. I’d be carted out of here snappish at that rate. No problem. My apartment door is opposite the elevators. No troublesome narrow staircase.

So that’s settled. Someone else can raid my pantry in their desperation to survive the quarantine.

Like Josef, all I can do is wait for the bullet, comforted by the fact that if it’s my bullet, someone else will be spared.

I had a brief flirtation with Communist ideology in my youth, mostly to annoy Joe McCarthy, the U.S. senator who was persecuting liberal Americans. Never mind that I was Canadian. I cheered when Castro ‘liberated’ Cuba, the day that I was married. Got over that pretty fast, certainly by the fall of 1962 when the Soviets seemed bent on blowing up my babies.

Spy-wise, Josef’s return to Germany, is not a success.The first sign is that he decides to keep a diary: spies should never commit anything to paper. He has found a room in a boarding house run by a widow, Anna, who has a 12-year-old son, Walter. Walter is trying to navigate his way through school assignments, which require him to support Nazi ideas and policies and he turns to Josef for help. It is this unexpected human need that prompts Josef to start his journal.

At that time -the summer and fall of 1938 – Hitler is laying the groundwork for the annexation of Sudetenland, the “Germanic” part of Czechoslovakia. It looks as if he will gobble up the whole country. Probably he delays because, despite the armament he has built, his railway infrastructure is not yet up to the job. Josef knows this because he works on scheduling trains. Czechoslovakia will be annexed entirely in March 1939, but it will take the invasion of Poland for the Allies to declare war. The main narrative of the diary ends before that.

There are four boarders in Anna’s house, avid followers of the news. One of them Rushay delightedly recites newspaper accounts of  the latest Nazi  ‘achievements’ at the breakfast table. He is not the only boarder who is in love with Anna, but he is the most persistent.

Reading these scenes is like watching CNN today, leadership indulging in half-truths, self aggrandizement, unapologetic disregard for facts and downright lies.

David Downing lives in England with his American wife. And yes, they do get CNN across the pond. My Belgian brother gets a head start on us because he gets up six hours earlier and sometimes wakes me up with outrages I don’t yet know about. I have explained to him that my medication is supposed to be calming my nerves, which are otherwise set on maximum alert, that I don’t watch the news anymore.

Addicts lie, but you knew that.

Diary of a Dead Man on Leave alludes to the ever worsening persecution of the Jews and concentration camps, but it dramatizes the persecution of Walter’s African-German school friend, Marco, who gets called a Rhineland bastard. He was conceived there at the end of WW I and his father, who loved his mother, was shipped home, not knowing about the conception.

Josef lives in expectation of recall to Moscow and the bullet that will probably await him. He is not sure he will answer the summons when it comes and meanwhile, Anna’s family needs him more and more.

He has always put his ideals before individual needs. The good of the whole and all that. How much of conscience should be sacrificed for pragmatic personal reasons?

Like many others, I would be better off today if I had been more pragmatic and morally flexible, but I chose to defy that logic. The same defiance that brought me here leads me to say the Covid-19 bullet is not for me.

If I am wrong, it doesn’t matter.

Ah Josef, this life is a school after all.

 

 

Victoria and Abdul: on the eve of destruction

As Queen Victoria lay dying, her friend and Munshi (teacher) Abdul Karim had a few minutes alone with her. Abdul was a Muslim from Agra, India, a prison clerk, who had been selected to present a medal to Victoria, Empress of India, primarily because he was tall. Victoria subsequently became fond of him, made him an important part of her household and announced she would knight him. Meanwhile, he taught her Urdo and some of the wisdom of the East.

As he leaned over her death bed, she whispered that she was afraid. He replied, “Let go, Little Drop, you will join the great ocean.” These, he added, are the words of Rumi, but it is Allah who is the teacher, implying that neither he nor Rumi deserve such credit.

As they talked, Bertie, her son and the future king and her grandson, Germany’s Kaiser, waited outside along with the other high-ranking members of the royal household.They were not best-pleased. They had tried to stop her from making Abdul a knight by threatening to have her declared insane. She replied by listing her manifold shortcomings – rheumatism, greediness, morbid obesity, dullness, etc., but declared she was not insane. She had ruled the British Empire 61 years and 234 days and she was not about to step aside. (In fact she ruled, in the end, 63 years, 7 months and 2 days, surpassing even George III. Since then, of course, another queen has beat her record.) Judi Dench portrayed Victoria’s repudiation of her court’s rebellion by announcing she would dub no knights that year, but she would make Abdul a member of the Victorian Order of Merit.

The story is based on fact – mostly – including Abdul’s journal, which managed to escape Edward VII’s (Bertie’s) pillaging of Abdul’s effects once his mother was dead.

Judi Dench is old enough to depict the physical decline of Victoria in her 80s. There is a scene where she sits in her night clothes at her dressing table, her long, straight hair hanging down, her ravaged face registering her disappointment that Abdul has misled her about the Muslim role in the Indian Mutiny. (It was the Muslim, not the Hindu, soldiers in the British army that threw down their arms: they had heard their guns were greased with pig fat. Wholesale slaughter ensued.) Watching that scene is particularly affecting for an older woman like me even though “she doesn’t look her age”. It set me up nicely for the death scene. I had to keep hitting pause in order to wipe my glasses.

Rumi’s poetry, translated by Coleman Barks, has been a great comfort to me, especially his Book of Love. I read Blake his poem called The Gazing House just before he passed. Blake was apparently unconscious but I knew he could hear.

On the night when you cross the street
from your shop and your house to the cemetery,

you’ll hear me hailing you from inside
the open grave, and you’ll realize
how we’ve always been together.

I am the clear consciousness core
of your being, the same in ecstasy
as in self-hating fatigue

……
And don’t look for me in human shape!
I am inside your looking. No room for form
with love this strong.

Rumi the Book of Love trans. Coleman Barks p.178

Victoria and Abdul had that kind of love despite the 60 years and class and race that lay between them. His last words to her are “You are going to a safer place.”

Meanwhile, we must be patient.

 

Winter Solstice 2019

Saturday, December 21, 2019, 8:19 p.m. is the Winter Solstice -the shortest day of the year, about 9 1/2 hours of light and the longest night. Today the year turns and tomorrow will bring more light. The following poem was written in Venice Beach, California on the Winter Solstice in 1993, a long way from the mountains of my childhood in the Eastern Townships, Quebec, Canada, but not so far from these Kern County mountains where we expect snow again.

Winter Solstice

Such deep dark
so long sustained
should smell of balsam,
cedar, pine,
should have a canopy of icy stars,
of Northern lights,
shifting panes of white or green.

-A child under a buffalo robe
watching a sleigh runner
cut through blue
moon-shadowed snow
sees a rabbit track running off
into deep woods.-

Waking in the depth
of this longest night,
thirsty for sleep,I hear
the pounding surf,
an angry wordless shout
one floor below
and the reverberating slam
of a dumpster lid.
The sky at least is quiet:
a star hangs
above the flight path.

In my long sleep,
I have been following
that track back
into the woods
breathing spruce pitch
and resined pine,
lashed by boughs of evergreen,
until I have arrived at this
secret place
which only wild things know,
a place to shelter
while things end,
time unwinds,
the circle turns.

When we awaken,
shouting, homeless,
single and bereft,
we will go forth
into the growing light,
a light
we creatures of the dark
must yet endure.

This is the place,
now is the time
for the birth of the Child
in the cave of the heart.

Dreams: Ian, Mae and Harold Arlen

I woke up to Ian Tyson singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Siri had slipped her leash and shuffled from White Noise on repeat.

I don’t need to tell you, dear constant reader, that that song is from a famous movie

The first real movie I ever saw was The Wizard of Oz. I was probably 8-years-old. That was 1944. In the province of Quebec, children were not permitted to go to movies, ostensibly because of a terrible fire in a theatre that had killed children, but, more likely, the Catholic Church deemed movies corrupting. The Catholic Church ruled in the mostly French province.

I had seen films, made by the National Film Board of Canada in class, quite a few of them. I think the projectionist made a circuit of the schools, English schools in my case, and we got to see whatever he brought whether it related to the curriculum or not. So I was already enraptured by flickering motion pictures in a darkened room, but the moment when Oz burst into colour sealed my fate.

Quite simply I had to go there.

True my life did not include tornadoes, but it did contain World War II, which I initially thought was right next door. Uncles were overseas, German prisoners kept escaping from the POW camp in Sherbrook and my friend’s uncle got shot down and died. Plus there was the on-going war at home, not just the struggle to live on little money and rationing, but the very real possibility that my father would eventually succeed in killing one of us.

So I dreamed.

Eventually, I realized Oz didn’t exist and I would have to make do with Hollywood. My Aunt Mae could tell the future and she said that yes, I would go there. I wasn’t clear why she was laughing as she hugged me close.

I kept scrap books of movie stars and pursued an acting career. I had a few gigs at Christmas concerts and variety shows. I did Burlington Bertie from Bow, like I saw once in a movie. I got the lead roles in half a dozen high school and university plays. The only movie role I was ever offered got cancelled before shooting started. But I did go to Hollywood. Over seventy times and I plan to return in a few weeks.

Spoiler alert: I produced a daughter who went there to live and she produced two sons. I starred as grandma. Daddy #2 introduced me to a movie star at whose Malibu beach house I stayed. Her present husband took me to Warner Bros and we ate in the commissary. I didn’t get to go to the Emmys with him, but who can complain.

So thank you Aunt Mae. You kept hope alive and you didn’t exactly lie.

I woke up thinking about dreams, the kind of dreams you have about your future and which I am informed are essential to a happy life.

Shall we count them up?

I dreamed I would have 5 children and live in a ranch house. I had 2 and lived in split levels. I dreamed I would go to university. I went to McMaster University in Hamilton Ontario and lived for 2 years in a beautiful residence called Wallingford Hall. (I won’t mention the Quoncet hut  I lived in in first year.) I learned a great deal about English literature and philosophy, and continued to do so at the University of Toronto, almost dreaming spires. So check and check.

I dreamed of going to Europe and seeing Paris and the Greek ruins and the remains of ancient Rome. It helped than my younger brother escaped there and stayed, so I was able to spend long summers there and to return several times.

As it turned out, I got caught up in someone else’s dreams that included a swimming pool and a sail boat. Okay, that seems like fun. I can only say I survived.

I dreamed of a summer home in the low mountains and hills of the Eastern Townships where I was born. Not happening. No one was going to sell to my father’s daughter. But as second prize, I found a vacation home in the much higher mountains of Kern County, California where the wooded slopes breathed pine resin and sighed in the wind.

I am not the sort who dreams of having successful children. Mine succeeded by existing, but, in spite of that, they and my grandsons have achieved excellence in diverse ways.

So what are my dreams now in the winter light of my 83rd year?

Well, I dream that I will someday wrap up the executor work for the estate of that other dreamer (of sail boats and swimming pools), and I am pleased to report that I have only 3 tasks left to complete. One of them, the release of a modest bank account, which money has to be paid to a group of people I have never met, is typical of the frustratingly slow process of executing an estate. (Come back here, Boy, and I’ll give you such a slap upside the head.)

Where would he come back from? Hummm. Well, his after-life seems to be some heavenly school room where he is studying advanced physics with a side of human relations. (Can I refrain from saying ‘which he could use’?)

I’m not sure what mine will be. It will probably be a few millennia before I can stop myself from leaning back toward incarnation to make sure things are going well, not that they ever do. But, I suppose, that’s the whole point. We long and hope, yet the real lesson comes from the unfulfilled dreams, the suffering that polishes us up and fills us with light.

And those little blue birds that flew over the rainbow. My father used to see them as a child. Then they vanished. I found them again one morning as I walked along the golf course fence in Pine Mountain Club. They were singing.

 

 

 

Thank You Anger, Thank You Rage VV

https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-d&q=Elanis+Morissette+Thank+oyo

It is Thanksgiving again. I say again because we Canucks had one 7 weeks ago. Some of us, however, have a foot in that other country and so we have two.

Then today talking to my American daughter long distance, I fell to thinking about how family members trigger each other. Holidays bring this out in the best of families, although a casual conversation can do the job just as well. I had just had one of those and we were analyzing it. How could I have handled it better, we wondered. Possibly, I could simply have acknowledged to the trigger-er that I had been triggered. Then I wouldn’t have got that great come-back in, I mused.

At that moment, I came face to face with my anger.

It’s been several hours since then and I have had time to see some of its dimensions, although mostly they vanish into the distance only hinting at the monolithic scale of my rage. There are sound reasons for harboring such a monster. If it were purely personal I might even be able to let it go, but the abuse which engendered it was visited on those I loved as well, vulnerable small people that try as I might I could not protect.

Years of therapy have not actually made a dent in it, although I have pretended that it did and mostly packed it away.

I read once that Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese monk who had a dreadful war to teach him rage, said that we have to honour our anger.

That seems more sensible than the idea that we somehow have to get rid of it. Mosh plans, pounding pillows, clobbering punching bags, all they accomplish is fatigue enough to make you too tired to care. And they seem to establish the habit of expression. For me at least.

My anger is too great to let loose.

I can’t imagine the anger of the Jews who escaped to NYC, leaving all their relatives to die in the camps or the surviving Bosnians whose loved ones were butchered and thrown in rivers or any of the other genocide survivors. Or the anger of slaves, past and present.

Even the anger of those who helplessly watch what looks like the demise of democracy is hard to get the measure of, or the rage of those who see the life on earth in peril and idiots denying same.

Of course we can use our anger as an impetus to constructive action, but the supply is surplus to needs. So then what?

The Vietnamese monk tells me that if I see the suffering that motivates my enemy, my anger will dissolve. A long range strategy perhaps. I’m a slow learner.

Meanwhile, thank you anger. You are mine. You are valid and reasonable. You are inextricably part of me. Sit with me here on this stormy night as Thanksgiving dawns again.

I undertake not to use you to harm others and, by honouring you, I know I render you less harmful to my self.

 

 

 

 

Closing Time: farewell Blake, it’s time to go

Tomorrow I go to sign the papers that close the sale of Blake’s house in Toronto’s Cabbage Town. The lawyer’s office is near there on Parliament St., but I think I will not go back to the place itself. I am told that it smells like any closed up house, which is good news because I spent several thousand dollars getting it not to smell like dying dog and master and incontinent cats and hoarder/not housekeeper girl friend.

The only trouble is by signing those papers, I am killing him all over again. Prostate cancer took him out, long, slow and painful, but there have been steps along the way that made him deader. The day the house was finally emptied of all the detritus of twenty years of living and never throwing anything away or cleaning anything for that matter. The day we got the unconditional offer for the asking price. The day that I could no longer feel him there beyond the veil. He had walked away. Gone on to higher education. Oblivious to the weeks of juggling figures, filing late tax returns, paying utility bills, house insurance, all that day-to-day stuff that I still had to do.

For years, when I glimpsed the blue of Lake Ontario from my 14-floor window, I thought Blake’s lake, Sirocco is down there waiting him to climb on board, his house is down there. Now it is not Blake’s lake.

Blake was my great love. Explaining that is like explaining sex to a child, impossible.The only one who expressed it was Leonard Cohen in Hallelujujah.

Blake betrayed me. The only one who apologized was Leonard Cohen. I understood from him that Blake had tried in his way to be free.

Blake knew though what Cohen had said about “children waiting to be born.”, although he wouldn’t have put it in those words. Apparently, he and I had a contract to produce and nurture two children, He fulfilled it.  They are greater than we ever imagined

Why he forsook us for those who seemed to care less for him than we did, we can only surmise. It was his life.

He left me a dragon’s trail of slime. Little by little his son and his step-daughter and my sister and my niece have helped me clear the material dross, and I have wrestled the numbers into some semblance of order. Our daughter lent me courage from afar.

I know you’re busy, Blake, learning some advanced other worldly physics, but, just saying, I miss you, Love.