Just another day?

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 24 February 2017

Perhaps all of this is none of my business.

Perhaps I should just quietly go about my life ignoring the world around me.

"The Blue Marble" photograph of Earth, taken by the Apollo 17 mission. The Arabian peninsula, Africa and Madagascar lie in the upper half of the disc, whereas Antarctica is at the bottom.

What does one man’s opinion matter, especially if that man lacks wealth, power or fame?

I believe that no man is an island, that each man is a note that contributes to the symphony of mankind.

I believe if a person acts according to the surety of conscience, resolving to do no harm but fight for the common good then that voice merits attention.

I live in one of the world´s most wealthiest countries, not by premeditated choice, but because I followed my heart and my wife when she sought better working conditions as a doctor than our homelands were offering.

But living in Switzerland, just as living in other countries prior to this (including my home and native land of Canada) did, often saddens me.

Flag of Switzerland

For it is the acquisition of wealth that seems to drive both institutions as well as individuals to act in ways detrimental to both our and others’ human spirit.

We have allowed ourselves over generations to let pieces of metal and paper dominate our decisions: how we spend our days, what we consider valuable, how we choose our leaders, how we interact, how we choose our life companions, the list seems endless.

Why do we believe that a beggar impoverished by circumstance is less worthy of respect than a banker who profits from the hard labour of others?

Why do people starve in the world when there is an overabundance of food available that if equally distributed could reach everyone?

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Why do we send young people and civilians to their deaths in wars so we can protect rare resources in the name of ideals we preach but seldom practice outside our borders?

Why are farmers who put food on our tables less respected than supermodels who are mere walking clothes hangers?

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We spend 80% of our adult lives working, yet so very few seem to enjoy the work they do, but we sacrifice our joy for what we believe to be the greater good: comfortable home lives.

But is that big screen TV enhancing our relationship with our spouses and children?

We reach our destinations faster, at the sacrifice of communion with our environment.

We have access to more information, but no time to assimilate it.

Why do we think ourselves superior to others and disregard what their common humanity has to teach us?

There is much I do not understand, much I have to learn.

I am a simple man of simple education, but I try to think and understand and learn about a world beset with problems.

I have been blessed by life in that I have been allowed to teach others to earn my daily bread, in the opportunities I have had to explore a small part of the world, in the range of information sources that time and place have granted me access.

I have a warm, dry place to lay my head each night and food to sustain my appetite.

I have been blessed by an imperfect beautiful and intelligent wife who feels compelled to remain with an even more imperfect, not so handsome or clever husband.

I have been blessed by friends who may not understand me but whose opinions and encouragement I value.

I have been blessed by sufficient health and the ability to think and feel and through electronics a forum to share my thoughts and ask questions.

I enjoy blessings that others in the world might not be enjoying.

With privilege comes responsibility.

This is a lesson many wealthy individuals forget.

This is a lesson many politicians forget.

I have a number of friends whose political views I do not share.

I respect their opinions and would gladly defend their rights to express those opinions.

In Europe and America many people have been shocked by the rise of right wing parties riding waves of populism they managed to create.

No one could have predicted the rise of France’s Marine LePen or America´s Donald Trump or the resilence of political parties like Germany’s Alternative Party, Italy’s Lega Nord, Belgium’s Vlaam Blok, Austria’s Freedom Party or Switzerland’s Swiss People’s Party.

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Brexit was unimaginable yet it happened.

Donald Trump becoming US President was even more inconceivable yet it has already been a month since his Inauguration.

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They scream about the potential security threats of letting immigrants and refugees into their countries.

I sadly read of yesterday’s events in Lahore, Pakistan…

At least eight people have been killed and more than 30 others injured in an explosion that hit the Defence Y Block, which houses restaurants, offices and shops in a busy shopping area in Pakistan`s second-largest city.

Punjab police said it was a planted bomb, set on a timer or remotely detonated that caused the explosion.

The force of the explosion blew out the windows of surrounding buildings and cars, spraying them with shrapnel as people fled.

The Defence Y Block, part of the Defense Housing Authority, is controlled by the military with housing mainly given to people working for the armed forces.

Just one week prior to this, a suicide attack on a shrine in Pakistan killed at least 88 people and injured more than 250.

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Above: The Sufi Shrine of Lal Shahbaz in Qalandar Sehwan, Pakistan, attacked on 16 February 2017

Two days before this a suicide bomber attacked a rally in Lahore, killing over a dozen people.

Above: Charing Cross, across from the Punjab Assembly, where the protestors had assembled on 13 February 2017

ISIS has claimed responsibility for the deaths, causing terror and distress across the country.

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While the Western press have published the odd article about the attacks, the coverage goes no further…

There is no big front page reporting, no special emergency episodes of political podcasts, no trending #s, no Snapchat filters…

The Western media is so obsessed with what Donald Trump does and doesn´t say about potential security threats that they are ignoring the actual terror attacks going on.

Nationality, religion and race are the clear deciding factors in the media’s reporting of lives lost.

Western media and governments have a standard policy…

Terrorism isn’t worth mentioning unless it affects their own people and countries.

If there were the same number of terrorism victims in a similar attack in any Western country, the media and politicians would have respondly quickly and loudly.

The message is clear.

Western lives matter, but brown, black and non-Christian lives aren’t worthy of a story.

Pakistan`s terrorism problem can’t be ignored.

More than 80,000 Pakistanis have lost their lives since the 9/11 terror attacks.

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Above: The flag of Pakistan

A total of four million Muslims have been killed in the war against terror.

Until we realise that all lives matter, that all lives deserve the same respect, regardless of race, wealth or creed, we will never be able to eradicate the threat of extremism which hangs over us all.

What happens in Nigeria, Turkey or Pakistan is no less important than what happens in America, Canada, France, Belgium, Germany or Switzerland.

Until we begin to care about life beyond our borders, not just for financial gain but for humanitarian reasons, mankind will never make much progress.

NASA recently announced the discovery of several Earthlike planets beyond our solar system, but I hope I don´t live to see the day mankind visits these planets or encounters alien life.

If we are unable to empathise with our fellow humans beyond our borders, surely we are not ready to explore the galaxy.

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Snowbirds

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 22 February 2017

In pauper’s fields the daisies grow

There are no crosses, sadly, no

To mark the place beneath the sky

There is no singing from up high

Scarce heard beneath the ground below

These pauper’s fields.

We are the dead, some time ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In pauper´s fields.

I have no quarrel with a foe.

To you from me: I failed, I know.

No time, no longer heads held high

Faith is broken, hope gone by

Memory won’t sleep, though daisies grow
In pauper’s fields.

(With apologies to John Mccrae)

Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 22 February 2017

“Ah, we’re drinking and we’re dancing and the band is really happening and the Johnny Walker wisdom running high…”

(Leonard Cohen, “Closing Time”)

Downtown Fort Lauderdale

For many, this city of nearly 175,000 represents Life.

Until the late 1980s, Fort Lauderdale was the college Spring Break destination.

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However the college crowd has been replaced by a wealthier group of people.

Today it is known as an international yachting centre, although there is still plenty of partying in its clubs, bars and pubs by straights and the LGBT crowd.

(The gay community is thriving here with many gay-friendly hotels and guesthouses, their own library and archives, community centre and the World AIDS Museum and Educational Center.)

(AIDS does not discriminate, though some folks still make the erroneous connection between sexual orientation and this uncompromising disease.)

Fort Lauderdale is 28 miles / 45 km north of Miami and enjoys a tropical rainforest climate with little seasonal variation.

Flag of Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Most days the temperature remains above 24°C / 75° F with over 3,000 hours of sunshine per year.

(Though it must be said that the ideal time of the year to visit the Fort is from October to May.)

And this endless summer attracts over 12 million visitors a year, a 1/4 of them from other countries.

To serve all these visitors, Fort Lauderdale has over 130 nightclubs, 16 museums, 12 shopping malls, 63 golf courses, 4,000 restaurants, 46 cruise ships dock here regularly, over 560 hotels offer over 35,000 rooms, with 278 campsites when the rooms are filled (regularly a 72% occupancy rate), 100 marinas shelter over 45,000 resident yachts and the convention centre serves over 30% of the city’s annual visitors.

Like South Florida in general, Fort Lauderdale has many residents who can speak a language other than English, but English predominates.

Residents not serving visitors are probably engaged in making or maintaining boats as Fort Lauderdale is a major centre for yachts.

Nicknamed the Venice of America, Fort Lauderdale, with its many canals – 165 miles / 266 km extensive network of canals – and its proximity to the Bahamas and the Caribbean, the city serves as a popular yachting vacation spot and home port and its annual International Boat Show attracts over 125,000 people to the city each year.

For the nomad, Fort Lauderdale means a chance to find work as a deckhand or cook in exchange for exotic winds.

To beaches and palm trees of distant islands filled with folks dreaming distant dreams of escape from a hell of service to wealthy visitors for whom their islands whisper Paradise…

Few nomads see the Fort as the locals do.

As they search for work amongst the throngs of tourists, the locals work in firms with names uninspiring, such as AutoNation, Citrix Systems, DHL Express, Spirit Airlines, the National Beverage Corporation, Tenet Healthcare, American Express, the Continental Group, Motorola, Maxim Integrated Products, Gulfstream International Airlines, the Online Trading Academy…

Surrounded by wealth, the average worker grits his teeth and sweats his life away for the scraps these firms reluctantly relinquish.

He sends his children to one of 23 public schools and, if he can afford it, later to one of the 9 institutions of higher learning the Fort has to offer.

Getting around, for the rare person without a car, means hopping on a BCT (Broward County Transit) bus.

Getting away means the railroad or the airport.

Only the wealthy dock in Port Everglades, the nation’s 3rd busiest cruise port, Florida’s deepest port.

Only the wealthy use the international passenger ferry service to Freeport on Grand Bahama Island.

But baby you can drive my car out of the Fort upon one of the three major interstate highways leading into the city.

Akin to other US cities, the Fort has fire and police services, hospitals and ambulances, churches and cemeteries, serving the city´s 13 municipalities divided into 90 distinct neighbourhoods.

Do not mistake the Fort for Paradise.

Despite its many attractions, despite its tropical climate, despite the wealthy who come to play, summer is hot and humid rife with folks collapsing with heat exhaustion and concerned by wayward hurricanes, winter is dry with the threat of brushfires and heavy afternoon thunderstorms.

And the Fort has had hard environmental lessons to learn.

Off the coast the Osborne Reef was an artificial reef made of discarded tires intended to provide a habitat for fish while simultaneously disposing of trash from the mainland.

A lengthy bed of old, skummy tires rests piled upon the ocean's floor at Osborne Reef; a small yellow fish swims by the left of the photo.

But the ocean decides for itself how it is to be governed.

The nylon straps used to secure the tires wore out, cables rusted, tires broke free.

The tires then migrated shoreward and ran into a living reef, killing many things in their path.

Thousands of tires continue to wash up on nearby beaches during hurricane season, though local authorities along with the Army, Navy and Coast Guard may have removed the 700,000 tires by the time these words are read.

Yet folks still decide to come here, still decide to live here.

Depending on the season the demographic picture changes.

Winter and early spring in Florida, a land of gentle breezes where the peaceful waters flow, attracts the snowbirds – tourists from the northern United States, Canada and Europe.

This Venice of America used to be dubbed Fort Liquordale because its beaches, bars and nightclubs back in the 1960s and 1970s attracted tens of thousands of college students for Spring Break.

But the city has actively discouraged college students from visiting the area since the mid-1980s passing strict laws aimed at preventing the mayhem and madness that regularly occured every year during Spring Break.

Where over 350,000 students used to party, now only 10,000 do so.

The Fort wants to be known as a resort town, a host city, a hub of arts and entertainment, of sports and culture.

Fort Lauderdale is home to the Riverwalk Arts and Entertainment District (that runs from the beach to the heart of downtown, from the Broward Center for the Performing Arts to the Elbo Room Bar on Fort Lauderdale Beach) and the Langerado Music Festival.

Lockhart Stadium is the home of the Strikers soccer team and the Florida University Owls football team.

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The New York Yankees, the Baltimore Orioles and the Kansas City Royals all once conducted baseball spring training at Fort Lauderdale Stadium.

Inside Fort Lauderdale Stadium.

Fort Lauderdale is home to the Aquatic Complex, part of the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

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The Complex open to Fort Lauderdale residents has also been the venue for many different national and international swimming competitions since 1965.

Ten world records have been set there, the latest being Michael Phelps’ 400-metre individual medley of 2002.

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Above: Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps (born 1985)

Fort Lauderdale is a place where a visitor finds it hard to be bored.

Here one can find the Swap Shop, a large indoor/outdoor flea market and the site of the world’s largest drive-in movie theatre with 13 screens.

The Hugh Taylor Birch State Park offers nature trails, camping, canoeing and picnicking.

The Museum of Art has works from the Cobra art movement (Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam) as well as collections of Cuban, African and South American art.

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The Museum of Discovery and Science has amazing exhibits, including an IMAX theatre.

Museum of Discovery and Science, Fort Lauderdale

Ten miles west and the #2 tourist destination in Florida is Sawgrass Mills Mall with more than two miles of outlets for such stores as Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Disney, Kenneth Cole, Tommy Hilfinger, Gap and Polo Ralph Lauren.

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(Perhaps even Ivana Trump?)

And for the history buff, Fort Lauderdale offers the Old Fort Lauderdale Museum of History (that covers the history of Fort Lauderdale and Broward County, including exhibits of native Seminole folk art and baseball)…

Stranahan House (the oldest building in the city, originally built as a trading post)…

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…the Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel House, the residence of the infamous gangster (1906 – 1947)….

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…and Bonnet House (a beautiful historic estate near the beach with a nature trail, tours and tropical plants both native and imported).

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Life: throbbing, authentic, vibrant, day and night.

Such is Fort Lauderdale.

But for me, Fort Lauderdale represents death.

This was the site where the native Tequesta tribe failed to stop the encroachment of white settlers who brought with them diseases to which the native population possessed no resistance.

This was the site of a massacre at the beginning of the Second Seminole War where Anglo settlement had pushed the Seminole tribes south from Alabama and threatened to push them out of their new homeland by the establishment of the New River Settlement (present day Fort Lauderdale).

During this War, Major William Lauderdale led his Tennessee Volunteers into the area and erected a fort on the New River in 1838.

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Above: Statue of Major William Lauderdale in Davie, Florida, the site of the Battle of Pine Island Ridge, 22 March 1838

Lauderdale left after a month, his fort was destroyed by the Seminoles a few months later, his name remained.

After the end of the Seminole War in 1842, the remaining Seminoles withdrew to Pine Island and only a handful of settlers lived in what would become known as Broward County.

The hurricane of 1926, with the highest sustained winds ever recorded in the state of Florida, killed 50 people and destroyed over 3,500 structures in the city.

Just as the city was beginning to recover, in 1928 another devastating hurricane struck Florida and though Fort Lauderdale was only slightly damaged, the enormous death toll to the north in Palm Beach County, contributed to the perception that Florida was not real estate development heaven.

When the Great Depression struck in 1929, Fort Lauderdale never knew it, for it was already in a depression from the real estate bubble burst caused by the two hurricanes.

The United States didn´t enter World War II until 1941, but Fort Lauderdale felt the effect of the War sooner than most of the country.

In December 1939 a British cruiser chased the German freighter Arauca into Port Everglades, where she remained until 1941 when Germany declared war on the US and the US seized the vessel.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour and the US entry into the War had immediate effects on the city.

Blackouts were imposed and several Allied vessels were torpedoed by German U-boats, including one ship within sight of the shoreline.

The first Medal of Honor recipient in World War II was a graduate of Fort Lauderdale High School.

By mid-1942, Fort Lauderdale would find itself with the US Navy Air Station Fort Lauderdale.

By the end of the War, the Station had trained thousands of Navy pilots, including the first President Bush.

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Above: George H. W. Bush, 41st US President (1989-1993)(born 1924)

On 5 December 1945, the five planes of Flight 19 departed on a routine training mission from NAS Fort Lauderdale.

They were never seen again.

No wreckage was ever found.

The strange disappearance of Flight 19 and the coincedental explosion which destroyed Training 49, a plane involved in a search for the missing squadron, have contributed to the Bermuda Triange myth.

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NAS Fort Lauderdale closed in 1946, becoming Broward County International Airport.

Commercial flights to Nassau began in 1953 and domestic flights began in 1958.

In 1959 the airport opened its first permanent terminal building and renamed itself the Fort Lauderdale – Hollywood International Airport.

Today the Airport (FLL) has five terminals, serving 31 passenger airlines and four cargo air services flying to a multitude of domestic and international locations.

Death has been felt here as well.

On 7 July 1983, Air Florida Flight 8, with 47 people on board, en route from Fort Lauderdale to Tampa was hijacked.

One of the passengers handed a note to one of the flight attendants, saying he had a bomb, and telling them to fly the plane to Havana.

He revealed a small athletic bag, which he opened to reveal an explosive device.

The plane was diverted to Havana’s José Marti International Airport.

The hijacker was taken into custody by Cuban authorities.

On 19 November 2013, an Air Evac International Learjet 35 crashed shortly after take-off en route to Cozumel, Mexico, leaving four people dead.

Fort Lauderdale – Hollywood International Airport, 6 January 2017

“And everybody knows that you’re in trouble.  Everybody knows what you’ve been through, from the bloody cross on top of Calvary to the beach of Malibu. Everybody knows it’s coming apart. Take one look at this sacred heart before it blows. And everybody knows.” (Leonard Cohen, “Everybody Knows”)

Terminal 2, known as the Delta Terminal or the red terminal, has one concourse and nine gates, the Delta Airlines Sky Club (one of only six in Florida) and is used by Delta Airlines and Air Canada.

A shooter opened fire with a Walther PPS 9-mm semi-automatic pistol in Terminal 2’s baggage claim area at about 12:55 pm.

Travellers rushed out of the airport and hundreds of people waited on the tarmac as numerous law enforcement officers rushed to the scene.

Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer tweeted from the Airport:

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“Shots have been fired.  Everyone is running.”

The shooting lasted about 70 to 80 seconds.

The shooter lay down on the ground after he stopped shooting, having run out of ammunition.

Law enforcement officers did not fire shots.

The gunman was arrested without incident.

Five people died in the attack, all of whom were passing through Fort Lauderdale to begin cruises with their spouses.

Six people were injured by the shooting, three admitted to intensive care units.

40 people were injured in the panic to escape from the shooting.

The American Red Cross assisted 10,000 passengers, bussing them to Port Everglades for food, shelter and transportation connections.

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The Airport closed for the rest of the day.

Following the shooting, more than 20,000 pieces of luggage were left at the Airport amid the choas.

Flags of the United States and Florida were flown at half-mast throughout the state on the following two days to honour the fallen.

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Esteban Santiago-Ruiz (born 1990), a 26-year-old resident of Anchorage, Alaska and a military veteran of the Iraq War, was arrested immediately after the shooting.

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According to investigators, Santiago flew from Anchorage on a Delta flight through Minneapolis.

He checked a declared 9-mm pistol in his baggage before retrieving it in Fort Lauderdale and loaded the gun in an airport bathroom just before the attack.

It remains unclear why the attack occurred.

Though the proliferation of guns in America makes incidents of this kind sadly not surprising.

Federal officials are seeking the death penalty against Santiago and he has been charged with 22 federal law violations.

No links with terrorism have been proven.

According to his family members, Private Santiago had become mentally ill by seeing a bomb explode near two of his friends while he was in service in Iraq.

A man who had seen death up close brought death with him to Fort Lauderdale.

Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 19 January 1971

“Oh, the sisters of mercy, they are not departed or gone.  They were waiting for me when I thought that I just can’t go on.  And they brought me their comfort and later they brought me this song.  Oh, I hope you run into them, you who’ve been travelling so long.  Yes, you who must leave everything that you cannot control.  It begins with your family, but soon it comes round to your soul.  Well, I’ve been where you’re hanging. I think I can see how you’re pinned.  When you’re not feeling holy, your loneliness says that you’ve sinned.”

(Leonard Cohen, “The Sisters of Mercy”)

For four long years, a waitress battled cancer.

She too was a snowbird, born in Manhattan, raised, married and divorced in Montreal, Genevieve – “Jenny” to her friends and family and preferred by herself – was only 34.

Yet those had been a full 34 years, for she had given life to six children – four boys and two girls.

Her youngest, a boy, would have been six years old in four months’ time.

Jenny had dreams of being a singer and still smiled when she remembered performing on local stages with her family band before she married the man who had changed her life for better and for worse.

But the secrets of her heart she did not reveal to the staff of the Holy Cross Hospital, run by the Sisters of Mercy.

Holy Cross Hospital

She did not give the name of her divorced husband nor mention her children to the staff of the hospital or to her social worker.

Perhaps good Catholic girls confess only to their priests.

She was just a patient among hundreds.

Since migrating down to Florida, Jenny had taken work as a waitress.

But health care in America, then as now, was expensive, and the salary of a waitress, then as now, was insufficient.

Social assistance was needed which entailed a social worker.

Jenny was admitted into the hospital just before New Year´s Eve.

She slipped into a coma and died at 05:30 just before dawn.

She was buried four days later in Sunset Memorial Garden Cemetery.

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Buried in an open field, which in spring is covered by daisies and dandilions, designated paupers’ field reserved for those without anyone to pay for a burial plot or headstone, it appears that Jenny died alone.

Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 31 December 1988

“Like a bird on a wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir, I have tried in my way to be free.” (Leonard Cohen, “Bird on a Wire”)

It had been a long journey of many miles and many years, but I would finally be “reunited” with a mother I no longer remembered.

For years I had known nothing about my origins, save that my family name differed from the surnames of the foster parents who had raised me for a decade.

I had, through painstaking effort, retraced the documents that detailed my life prior to my stewardship with my foster parents, and the paper trail would find me travelling from Ottawa to New Brunswick to Montreal to Manhattan to Fort Lauderdale.

I, like my mother before me, did not possess great wealth, so much of my journey was done by thumbing rides and obtaining shelter and food through charity.

I was not reluctant to work, but what work I was qualified to do would have required many months, possibly years, before I could afford to travel without assistance.

And questions too long gone unanswered now drove me impatiently to the road.

Two days ago in Jacksonville, I received my mother’s death certificate from the Florida Office of Vital Statistics.

Now I stand in the cemetery´s caretaker office enquiring where my mother´s remains rest.

He informs me that there is no headstone, that she is buried in an unmarked grave in a pauper’s plot.

The ground is dusty and barren.

The tufts of grass that remain are yellow and brown.

Is this how I am to remember the woman who gave me life?

A few faded black-and-white photographs given reluctantly by the man whose surname I bear and a dry abandoned corner of a faraway cemetery?

According to him, Jenny had left husband and children behind as she was desperately unhappy, but she clung to her newborn son.

For this they never forgave her nor, I would learn later, me.

Out of sight, out of mind.

Now she is only a name on scattered certificates in registeries in Montreal, New York City and Jacksonville.

Unloved, unmourned, forgotten.

Is this the sum of a person’s life?

I stare at the ground which remains stubbornly mute and unresponsive.

Moments feel like eternity.

I look up in frustration at my inability to reconcile this empty field with the years of searching, both within myself and across the breadth of two countries.

I feel cold despite a Floridan winter warm by comparison to Canada.

A chain link fence surrounds the cemetery.

On the other side of the fence stands a factory.

Upon its back wall a painting of a mother holding a laughing baby beneath the words “Baby Love”, a producer of baby food and disposable diapers sold worldwide.

Sustainable Baby

I find myself upon my knees in the dirt of this plot of land rarely visited and tears flow down without warning, without rationale.

There is no comfort to be found in this field.

There are no answers to be found here.

The dead below lack a voice, lack awareness, lack even identity itself.

I dry my eyes, return back to the caretaker to thank him for his assistance and keep my sorrow hidden even from myself.

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 22 February 2017

Years have passed since I said goodbye to Fort Lauderdale.

Weeks have passed since the airport shooting that reminded me of death in Fort Lauderdale.

I realise that it has been these recollections that made me quiet and reflective in my expression of thought and feeling these past few weeks.

Perhaps it is in coming to terms with mortality that we begin to discover the meaning of life.

Not that it ends, but that it is precious and should not be wasted.

I hope I can return one day to Fort Lauderdale and see the city through the eyes of a tourist and sample life there in all of its richness and fullness.

I hope to return to pauper’s field of Sunset Memorial one day and whisper into the tropical breeze a “thank you” to the remains of a woman who gave me birth, knowing she cannot hear the words but knowing I need to say those words to give a meaning to her life, a meaning to my life.

I hope that the families and friends of those that fell to the gunfire of an ill man in an airport baggage claim can find solace in the memory of how those departed made a difference to their lives.

And I hope that in my own humble way that I too will leave this world one day remembered for the way I made a difference in the lives of others.

Maybe if there is an afterlife I will wake to find Heaven resembles Fort Lauderdale.

As a snowbird Canuck, I think I would like that.

“Beneath this snowy mantle cold and clean, the unborn grass lies waiting for its coat to turn to green. The snowbird sings the song he always sings
and speaks to me of flowers that will bloom again in spring. When I was young, my heart was young then, too. Anything that it would tell me,
that’s the thing that I would do. But now I feel such emptiness within,
for the thing that I want most in life’s the thing that I can’t win.”

(Anne Murray, “Snowbird”)

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The great adventure

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 21 February 2017

Sometimes words flow out of you, rushing and pouring out of your heart and soul like a waterfall that can´t be stopped.

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Other times ideas and thoughts trickle down into words upon a screen like a desiccated desert drain from which only gasping drops remain.

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And then there are moments when what one wants to say has to be chewed over thoughtfully, ruminating in the sauces of one´s consciousness, digested and processed like the cud of some bovine creature grazing soundlessly on some empty barren prairie.

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For three weeks thoughts and feelings have remained close to me, unsaid, unwritten.

It took the dying of an innocent man to bring fingers back to keyboard and courage back to expression.

Learned recently of a man I only knew of through another person.

He was only 40, a husband and father of a newborn, killed instantly by a lorry while riding his bicycle outside the Kunsthaus in Zürich.

Above: Kunsthaus Zürich

He leaves behind a shocked and grieving widow and an orphaned child who will never know his daddy.

That morning when he rose from the warm bed of his bride he did not imagine the day ending in his death.

He had a lifetime to look forward to.

Watching his son grow into a man, holding his wife in warm embrace as they grew old with one another.

Now all that he was, all that he could have been, is no more.

Death stalks us all, yet we mortal fools deny that death would ever happen to us.

We fight against the dying of the light.

We burn bright against the gathering shadows and we either decide to live life to the fullest, determined to wrestle with mortality with our last breath, or we keep our heads down and slowly sip the waters of life, hoping that a quiet life will keep the Grim Reaper’s attention focused on others.

We are all fools.

I am reminded of my foster parents.

They pinched the Canadian penny until the beaver upon it pissed blood.

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They scrimped and saved with plans to see the world and travel one day.

Cancer cheated them of these hopes.

She died first of ovarian cancer, he a heartbeat later of intestinal cancer.

I would later learn of my biological mother dying of breast cancer when I was but a toddler.

All three had made their plans.

They would travel.

They would see the world.

"The Blue Marble" photograph of Earth, taken by the Apollo 17 mission. The Arabian peninsula, Africa and Madagascar lie in the upper half of the disc, whereas Antarctica is at the bottom.

They would have adventures.

I was determined while I had my health, whether I had money or not, I would travel, see the world, have adventures.

I have tried in the humblest way I can to learn and understand the world beyond my own limited experience.
The older I get, the more I realise there will always remain much to learn.
I first sought to understand my home and native land of Canada.
 Flag of Canada
Then I travelled to the US and Europe and a wee bit of Asia hoping to understand more about people and places I had only heard about.
I hope, life and health willing, to see the Middle East and Africa and more of Asia and, maybe one day, the rest of the Americas south of the US border.
Limited by love and responsibilities I am not so free as I was when I was single.
Though I have encountered the poor in my travels I have never witnessed 3rd World poverty.
 
I have always preferred peace to war, though I have never been in war conditions to fully understand the fear, horror, sorrow and hate that war produces.
 
Above: The ruins of Guernica, 1937
I have been truly blessed by accident of birth and the shelter of my limited experience not to have seen the things that children of men should never have to see.
And I suspect that having never seen these things that I am a fool to believe that I will understand these things without direct experience.
But if I could see a world where these things no longer exist…that is a world worth experiencing.
Christopher McCandless in a letter to his friend Ron:
 Chris McCandless.png
“I’d like to repeat the advice that I gave you before, in that I think you really should make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt.
So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future.
The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure.

The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.

If you want to get more out of life, Ron, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy.

 But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty.
And so, Ron, in short, get out of Salton City and hit the Road.
I guarantee you will be very glad you did.
But I fear that you will ignore my advice.
You think that I am stubborn, but you are even more stubborn than me.
You had a wonderful chance on your drive back to see one of the greatest sights on earth, the Grand Canyon, something every American should see at least once in his life.
 Grand Canyon view from Pima Point 2010.jpg
But for some reason incomprehensible to me you wanted nothing but to bolt for home as quickly as possible, right back to the same situation which you see day after day after day.

I fear you will follow this same inclination in the future and thus fail to discover all the wonderful things that God has placed around us to discover.

Don’t settle down and sit in one place.

Move around, be nomadic, make each day a new horizon.

You are still going to live a long time, Ron, and it would be a shame if you did not take the opportunity to revolutionize your life and move into an entirely new realm of experience.

You are wrong if you think Joy emanates only or principally from human relationships.

God has placed it all around us.
It is in everything and anything we might experience.
We just have to have the courage to turn against our habitual lifestyle and engage in unconventional living.

My point is that you do not need me or anyone else around to bring this new kind of light in your life.

It is simply waiting out there for you to grasp it, and all you have to do is reach for it.
The only person you are fighting is yourself and your stubbornness to engage in new circumstances.”

But…

An adventure is only an adventure in the telling.

You are 27 miles from Anywhere in the middle of a black night with the cold rain drenching you.

You have no tent.

No cover can be seen.

You are sick.

You are tired.

Loneliness has struck you sharper than any dart could.

You crave people, light, warmth.

No one stops.

No one cares.

You are in the guts of an isolated landscape.

You have no idea of precisely where you are or how you will leave this vale of sorrow and suffering.

Welcome to the adventure.

Are we having fun yet?

Perhaps I have painted a picture of roses and sunsets and intense happiness that I encountered in my own travels.

But suggesting that all of travel is an endless array of joy and harmony is not at all the full story…

As I have already suggested in previous posts I have done a wee bit of travelling…walked thousands of kilometres in Canada and abroad, hitched tens of thousands of kilometres in North America and Europe…journeys sometimes lasting months.

The longest hitching trip I made was a year’s journey from Ottawa to Newfoundland to Key West to California to Vancouver back to Ottawa.

And as many great times as there were, there were also moments of fear, worry and sorrow.

It would take a lifetime to describe them all…
– being shot at in appropriately named Winchester, Ontario
– being caught out on the side of a mountain in the dark and the rain with no shelter
– violent encounters with other residents of men’s shelters in Montreal and Strasbourg
– stranded for three days and nights in Death Valley
– arrested and jailed for two weeks in Phoenix
– a boy threatens me with a rifle in my face in Collingwood
– followed for miles by a person whose intentions were unclear in the night streets of Memphis
– the same evening an old man dies in the bunk across from me in the men’s shelter
– drivers stoned, drivers drunk, uncertainty of arriving at final destination alive
– unwelcome overtures by those eager to share the night

Any one of these moments made me question the wisdom(if any) of the journey I was making.

But, take heart, would be nomad or present nomad, wondering if the darkness really means that dawn is fast approaching…

There were many more moments that more than compensated for the dark times.

Just a few…
– Sharing meals with migrant Mexican workers in the bunkhouse of a winery on Pelee Island
– Landscapes too beautiful for words
– Generosity offered by strangers more precious than gold
– Women whose beauty and character reminded me of why I am alive and stand in awestruck wonder and amazement at the luck that brought them into my life if even for a moment
– Lying on a hillside sharing a bottle of wine and looking up at a sky full of stars by a campfire round which the homeless of Kingman were gathered
– Lying under the stars by the mighty Ottawa River until the next morning’s ferry would depart
– Witnessing the Northern Lights from a snow covered field in the middle of Alaska

Above: Frederic Church, Aurora Borealis (1865)

Is travelling risky?

Yes.

Is it worth the risk?

I recently read the news of a young lady who after exploring 5 continents and more than 33 countries was found dead on an island off the coast of Panama strangled with her own sarong.
A few months ago a young woman was murdered in Nepal by a host whose mental state had been impossible to predict by the website that they had both registered with.
A few years ago a young man who wanted to experience the true wilderness of Alaska died in the attempt.
All sad stories and the fuel of cautionary warnings about the folly of travel.
And if you are looking for more reasons to never leave your country of origin just follow a newsgroup or listen to the fearmongering media or follow the advice of state departments and ministries of foreign affairs.
But before you put bars on your windows and gather the family in the basement waiting for the end times, consider the following…
Who is guaranteed a long and healthy life?
What’s the point of living if you don’t feel alive?
Making a living and ensuring your loved ones have a loving and stable life and a promising future is worthy of merit and respect.
Without this kind of love and devotion, civilisation would not be possible.
But waiting until the time is “right” is no guarantee that when the time arrives you will have the ability to travel.
Were the above mentioned victims of their travels foolish?
Perhaps.
But while they lived, their lives were filled with great moments that are unique to travelling.
Too many people live lives of quiet desperation.
Too many people sell their souls in the name of material wealth.
The young ladies lived their lives to the fullest.
Chris McCandless felt the passion of life until a fatal error of eating poisonous berries ended his life too soon.
But while they breathed they lived.
And isn’t that the point?

If you are looking for guarantees, there are none.

But all that life is, the good and the bad, will be magnified beyond all that you have known when you travel.
To paraphrase Shakespeare, there are more things (and experiences) than are dreamt of in your (present) philosophy.
 Shakespeare.jpg
 I have struggled these past three weeks, save for a few Facebook posts, to sit down in front of my computer and create.
And it has not been that there is nothing to write about, but rather the reverse.
I found myself wondering if anyone is interested in what I think and whether my writing is less inspirational than it is egotistical.
Granted to write is to believe that what one thinks is worthy of communicating.
But recently I have been reminded of George Orwell/Eric Blair and his classic 1984…not because these modern times are Orwellian…but because of the reasons why Winston Smith – the protagonist of the novel – began keeping his journal.
 Nineteen Eighty Four.jpg
Smith doubted anyone would read his words, whether anyone who did read his journal would understand him or the reality he was writing about.
But I am inspired by what Smith concluded…
Smith wrote to express himself, to put into words what was real, in an age where reality was regulated to fit the wishes of power rather than what Smith knew to be true through his own experience.
To express with courage the reality of 2+2=4, rather than what someone else insists that 2+2 must be.
Why do I write?
A number of reasons…
Partially psychologically…
By putting an experience into words, I begin to better understand the experience.
Socially, I try to follow two statements:
1) Every person is my superior that I may learn from him/her. And I am superior to everyone that they may learn from me.
This keeps me both humble while it maintains a healthy feeling of self-worth.
2) Do no harm.
I do realise that I will never please everyone all the time, but I continue to try and not hurt anyone with my words or actions.
Travelling has taught me so much and I hope my words offer confidence and comfort to any who have chosen to read them.
I have seen so much and yet there is so much left to see.
I have learned so much and yet there is so much left to learn.
In Africa it is said that when an old man dies, a library is destroyed.
I am not sure, if I live to a ripe old age, whether that will be the case for me.
But in the grand symphony, the great adventure, of Life, if I can know in my own small way I have contributed a verse, then I think my life will have had some meaning after all.
It was suggested to me that when one shares one’s experiences that this is an expression of an overinflated ego with delusions of one’s value in thinking that his experience actually matters to anyone else.
And I can’t deny that this bothers me.
Speaking only for myself, it has bothered me when I have tried to share some of the feelings and thoughts that travelling has generated to find those who have not travelled only marginally interested.
So often those you love neither understand nor care about what you have felt and learned as it has little to do with their own lives.

So why write?
To express myself.
To relate reality as I perceive it to be.
To shout out loud the truth of experience and the certainty of conviction.
In an age where presidents can lie boldface and critics cower and avoid confrontation…
In an age where dignity and respect are secondary to messages transmitted loudly and repeatedly until the listener simply surrenders…
Where a lie becomes truth if spoken by power in a never ceasing cacophony of intimidating relentlessness…
An age where we are taught to be afraid of the future, dissatisfied with the present and unconvinced by the past…
Where thought is discouraged, dissent repressed, emotions controlled and hope is crushed…
We rush through reality without looking at it, eyes downward cast in submission to electronic gods we have fashioned for ourselves.
 
But those who can think, those brave enough to feel and speak…
I encourage you to travel and to speak your minds…
While you still can…
I travel and write to help myself understand…
I hope my words encourage others to do the same.
 Image may contain: 1 person

Half the sky: the wonder of Woman

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 6 February 2017

“We the willing, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful.

We have done so much, with so little, for so long, we are now qualified to do anything, with nothing.” (Konstantin Josef Jirecek)

Could this statement be strangely appropo if we viewed it from the perspective of women?

There is a scene in Back to the Future, Part 2 that has remained with me many years after the film.

Back to the Future Part II.jpg

Doctor Emmett Brown, after discovering that their arch-enemy Biff has somehow disturbed the timeline and has turned the Hill Valley they once knew into a dystopia, says to his youthful companion Marty McFly:

“Time-traveling is just too dangerous.

Better that I devote myself to study the other great mystery of the universe: women!”

In my humble opinion…the study of women is a far more dangerous endeavour!

And it is in this spirit of danger and caution that I discuss this humble man´s opinion about the other half of humanity that, in the words of Mao Zedong, “hold up half the sky”.

Mao Zedong portrait.jpg

Mao Zedong (1893 – 1976)

Sometimes our thinking is clouded by false assumptions…

A father and son are driving home.

They are involved in a bad car accident and are rushed to hospital.

Both are in critical condition.

A surgeon comes to the Emergency Room to try to save the boy, takes one look at the patient and says:

“I can´t operate on this boy.

He´s my son.”

But the boy´s father is lying on a trolley next to him.

What is the surgeon talking about?

Depending on the country, the surgeon is probably the boy´s mother.

There are moments, when I consider these modern times, that I am happy at the progress humanity has made.

More and more women are thought of as not just wives and mothers, but as leaders, activists, experts, major contributors to society and not only as passive onlookers to history or merely victims.

Women not only have a huge influence within the community.

Women create the community.

It was the women of South Sudan who organised the 1999 Wunlit Dinka-Nuer Peace and Reconciliation Conference to bring to an end seven years of hostilities between the Dinka and Nuer peoples.

Flag of South Sudan

Above: The flag of South Sudan

They began by sharing with each other their stories of the pain and suffering that both peoples had inflicted upon each other.

Determined to help their people find a way to make peace, they laboured for months to build an entire village of 150 houses, a large meeting hall and a well for water and the provision of food for 1,500 people.

A living community, a village of peace…Wunlit.

The Dinka-Nuer Covenant guaranteed peace between the tribes who agreed to share rights in water, fishing and grazing land.

In spite of the ongoing violence, it is Israeli and Palestinian women who are working together through Jerusalem Link to convey a join vision of a just and lasting peace.

Jerusalem Link is the coordinating body of two independent women’s centres: Bat Shalom (The Jerusalem Women’s Centre in West Jerusalem) and Marcaz al-Quds al-Nissah (The Jerusalem Centre for Women in East Jerusalem).

From upper left: Jerusalem skyline looking north from St. Elijah Monastery, a souq in the Old City, Mamilla Mall, the Knesset, the Dome of the Rock dominating the Old City, the citadel (known as the Tower of David) and the Old City walls, and the Western Wall.

Above: Pictures of Jerusalem

Though each organisation is autonomous and takes its own national constituency as its primary responsibility, Jerusalem Link promotes a joint vision of peace, democracy, human rights and women’s leadership.

Vandana Shiva is a leading Indian researcher and activist on biodiversity, conservation and the protection of people’s rights from threat to their livelihoods and the environment.

Dr. Vandana Shiva DS.jpg

Above: Dr. Vandana Shiva (b. 1952)

Her father a conservator of forests and her mother a farmer with a love for nature, Vandana has a bachelor and master of science from Punjab University in Chandigarh, a master of arts in the philosophy of science from the University of Guelph and a PhD from London, Ontario’s University of Western Ontario.

Dr. Shiva later went on to interdiscplinary research in science, technology and environmental policy at the Indian Institute of Science and the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore.

Dr. Shiva has spent much of her life in the defence and celebration of biodiversity and indigenous knowledge, working to promote agricultural productivity, nutrition and fair incomes for farmers.

Dr. Shiva has her share of critics, and I confess that I need more information regarding the legitimacy of some of her claims, but there is no denying the impact she has had.

Her first book, Staying Alive, helped redefine perceptions on Third World women and she has founded and has actively participated in women’s rights, environmental development and anti-genetic engineering protests.

Dr. Shiva continues to play a major role in the global ecofeminist movement and she suggests a more sustainable and productive approach to agriculture can be achieved through reinstating a system of farming in India that is more centred on engaging women.

Dr. Shiva believes that ecological destruction and industrial catastrophes threaten daily life and that the maintenance of these problems has become the responsibility of women.

Recognition of the rights and the contributions of women has come relatively late in humanity´s history.

In 1910, the Socialist International meeting in Copenhagen established an International Women’s Day to honour the movement for women’s rights and to assist in achieving universal suffrage for women.

The first International Women’s Day was held on 19 March 1911.

In 1913, as part of the peace movement on the eve of World War I, Russian women observed their first International Women’s Day on the last Sunday of February 1913.

In 1917, with 2,000,000 Russian soldiers dead in the War, Russian women again chose the last Sunday in February to strike for “bread and peace”.

Four days later, the Czar was forced to abdicate and the new Provisional Government granted women the right to vote.

That Sunday fell on 23 February on the Julian calendar then used in Russia, which was 8 March on the Gregorian calendar used elsewhere.

International Women’s Day (8 March) has become a global opportunity to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women in the advancement of women’s rights.

Frauentag 1914 Heraus mit dem Frauenwahlrecht.jpg

Above: German poster for International Women’s Day, 8 March 1914

If you want to know how women’s lives are changing around the world, then visit the Global Sisterhood Network. (http://www.global-sisterhood-network.org)

global-sisterhood-network.org

This organisation monitors electronic and print media for developments likely to have a direct impact on women’s lives, including developments in agriculture, economics, employment, environment, health, law, militarism, politics, technology, trade and science.

How does the Global Sisterhood Network describe itself?

“The GSN provides regularly updated information including critical comment and displays of newspaper and journal articles that reinforce patriarchy / misogny, but have attracted sparse attention and / or comment as the world moves closer to un-democracy.”

Florynce Rae Kennedy, prominent civil rights activist and pro-choice campaigner, once famously said:

“If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.”

In response, Maurice and Charles Saatchi, advertising gurus, sprang to public attention with a poster of a pregnant man, saying:

“If this could happen to you, you’d be more careful.”

The world looks different from male and female perspectives, especially when it comes to aggression and warfare.

The architects of the Iraq War on both sides were all men.

Would the War had even happened had they all been women?

Since 1985 the Guerilla Girls have been reinventing feminism. (http://www.guerillagirls.com)

Guerrilla Girls

They produce posters, stickers, books, printed projects and public demonstrations to expose sexism and racism in politics, the art world, film and culture at large.

Dubbing themselves “the conscience of culture”, the Guerilla Girls “believe feminism is a fundamental way of looking at the world and recognising that half of us are female and all of us should be equal.”

“It’s a fact of history that for centuries women have not had the rights and privileges of men.

It’s time for that to end.

Despite the tremendous gains of women over the last hundred years, misogyny – the hatred or hostility towards women as a whole – is still rampant throughout our culture and in the larger world.

We think that is the number one reason women need feminism.”

Above: International Women’s Day rally, Dhaka, Bangladesh, 8 March 2005

And how are women treated unequally?

Women have not achieved total equality with men in any country.

More than 866 million women live below the poverty line.

Women make up 2/3 of all poor people.

More than 20,000,000 women are refugees.

Women make up more than 75% of the world’s total of refugees.

More than 86,000,000 girls are not in school, 2/3 of all those in the world denied education.

Malala Yousafzai 2015.jpg

Above: Women’s rights advocate for equality in education and 2014 Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai (born: 1997)

Women worldwide earn about 3/4 of the pay of men for the same work.

In the 20th century only 24 women were elected heads of state or government.

In the United Nations less than 10% of the highest-ranking diplomats are women.

Flag of United Nations Arabic: الأمم المتحدةSimplified Chinese: 联合国French: Organisation des Nations uniesRussian: Организация Объединённых НацийSpanish: Naciones Unidas

Since the Nobel Prizes were founded in 1901, only 12 women have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace.

A golden medallion with an embossed image of Alfred Nobel facing left in profile. To the left of the man is the text "ALFR•" then "NOBEL", and on the right, the text (smaller) "NAT•" then "MDCCCXXXIII" above, followed by (smaller) "OB•" then "MDCCCXCVI" below.

Above: Medallion picturing Alfred Nobel

Of the 204 Nobel laureates in physics, only two have been women.

The first and best-known, Marie Curie, was included only because her husband, Pierre, insisted that she, too, be awarded for their joint work.

Marie Curie c1920.jpg

Above: Marie Sklodowska Curie (1867 – 1934)

When women are included on any list of hires, speakers or awardees, the people responsible often point with pride to their generosity as if including women on a list is indicative of performing a charitable service rather than that the women are deserving of recognition for their achievements.

Yet, women contribute more than $15,000,000,000 worth of unpaid work in homes and communities around the world.

Throughout the world women find themselves struggling between the biological imperative of producing and raising children and their desires to become more than simply wives and mothers.

Let´s look at a country in which I once lived…

A low birthrate is one of South Korea’s most urgent socio-economic challenges.

Centered taegeuk on a white rectangle inclusive of four black trigrams

Above: The flag of South Korea

Amid rising costs of living and education, women are increasingly moving into the job market, but they often find it all but impossible to keep their careers and raise children.

Many women still feel pressure to quit their jobs once they become pregnant.

For many women working in the private sector, especially those employed at smaller businesses, an extended parental leave with the option of returning to work remains a dream.

Even if a woman returns to work, finding affordable day care centres can be difficult.

At home, looking after a child is still largely considered a woman’s job even when she works outside the home.

So with so many pressures at work and at home, many women choose to remain single or marry late and have, at most, only one child.

South Korea’s fertility rate, one of the world’s lowest, is well below the “replacement level” that allows a society to maintain its population without immigration.

Some folks predict that South Korea will become extinct if it continues to maintain its current birthrate.

For years, local officials in South Korea have tried ever more inventive plans to encourage women to have babies.

They have offered generous maternity leave policies, cash allowances and boxes of beef and baby clothes to families with newborns.

On Thursday 29 December 2016, the South Korean Ministry of the Interior published an online birth map that uses shades of pink to rank towns and cities by the number of women of childbearing age.

The birth map was intended to “promote competition” among towns to produce more babies.

The reaction to this map was so overwhelmingly negative, especially among women, that the website was shut down within hours of its introduction.

An angry blogger wrote:

“Are women livestock?

CH cow 2 cropped.jpg

Above: Swiss Braunvieh cow with cowbell

The Ministry counted fertile women like they counted the number of livestock.

Did the Ministry think that men would flock to a town with more childbearing age women?”

Han Chang-min, spokesman for the opposition Justice Party:

“It’s truly deplorable, because the map shows that the government considers women as nothing but baby producing machines.

It shows the government sees birthrates just as a woman’s problem.”

According to Marie Stopes International, an organisation that promotes safe motherhood across the world:

Every minute of every hour of every day, more than 380 women become pregnant.

PregnantWoman.jpg

Half of these pregnancies are unplanned or unwanted.

“Abortions happen, every day.

Making them illegal doesn’t stop women needing, or wanting them, or inflicting abortions on themselves.

Even if you don’t agree with abortion, it is not morally acceptable to force your views upon others.” (Leslie Spillane, Cork, Ireland)

Every year, more than 600,000 women die from complications during pregnancy and childbirth.

That is the equivalent of a ship the size of the Titanic sinking every day with no survivors.

RMS Titanic 3.jpg

Above: RMS Titanic leaving Southampton, 10 April 1912

Maternal deaths account for 30% of all deaths among women of reproductive age.

And women worldwide remain in all sorts of situations where they are in physical danger of attack.

In the US alone, women and girls represent 86% of all victims of sexual violence.

Datei:Flag of the United States.svg

Bangalore, India, 1 January 2017

Horizontal tricolor flag bearing, from top to bottom, deep saffron, white, and green horizontal bands. In the centre of the white band is a navy-blue wheel with 24 spokes.

Above: The flag of India

Thousands of people have gathered on two roads in the city centre to celebrate the New Year.

The police on the scene – more than 1,500 officers – are quickly overwhelmed as men begin molesting women and shouting lewd remarks.

The crowd becomes a stampede as men take their chance to grope and fondle any nearby women they can find in a mass frenzy of molestation and unwelcome physical contact.

Rajnath Singh, India’s Home Minister, told reporters that “protecting the modesty of women is the duty of state government”.

But some elected officials reacted to the events in Bangalore by pointing the finger at Westernising customs rather than the assailants.

Abu Azmi, an assemblyman from Maharashtra State, complained that “the more nude the woman looks, the more fashionable and modern she is called.”

The government official responsible for keeping order on Indian streets, the Home Minister for the state of Karnataka, Mr. Parameshwara said that the women were to blame because of the way they looked and acted.

“Youngsters were almost like Westerners.

They tried to copy the Westerner, not only in their mindset but even in their dress.

So some disturbance, some girls are harassed, these kind of things do happen.”

Once again, the victims are blamed for their assaults, rather than the assailants.

Kabul, Afghanistan, July 2016

Flag of Afghanistan

Above: The flag of Afghanistan

An unproven accusation of adultery sends a mob chasing after a girl and the young man she had been linked to.

The crowd sets fire to the car in which the couple are found.

They barely escape, but the police are more concerned about the mob’s accusation.

The police chase her down and arrest her hours later.

The teenage girl had barely survived an attempted mob lynching.

“Since there was suspicion of sexual relationship, the police sent the girl to forensic medical for virginity testing.” (Fraidoon Obaidi, chief of the Kabul Police Investigation Department)

Virginity testing is an extremely invasive examination to check whether a woman’s hymen is intact.

A study by Afghanistan’s human rights commission found the justice system still regularly orders female victims of domestic abuse who had sought protection in women’s shelters to go through the procedure.

The Commission calls the examinations “violence against women”.

“The circumstances of virginity testing are never humane.

In conducting virginity tests, no one asks for the consent of the victim.

99% of the virginity tests are conducted by force.” (Soraya Sobrang, Commissioner, Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission)

And as I look back at the news events of just the first month of 2017, I remain dismayed and saddened at the ongoing plight of women around the world:

  • In recent months, the Myanmar military has entered villages in the northern state of Rakhine shooting at random, setting houses on fire with rocket launchers and systematically raping girls and women.
  • Flagge Myanmars
  • Above: The flag of Myanmar
  • A film about sex trafficking, I Am Jane Doe, opens in US theatres next month and shines a light on the website Backpage, “the Walmart of human trafficking”, that dominates the online sex trade and is implicated in 3/4 of the reports of child trafficking in the US.
  • The MTV series Sweet / Vicious is one of several productions currently prevading US pop culture with tales of rape victims exacting revenge upon their attackers, but do these shows truly reveal rape’s social and psychological consequences or do they trivialise an “eye for an eye” retribution?
  • Sweet Vicious Key Art.jpg
  • In democracies from Australia to North America and Europe, the pipeline of women ready to step up to the top in politics and business remains thin and is a major topic at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

  • Police Now, a diversity initiative financed by the British Home Office and started in 2015, now has more than 150 officers spread out over England, 49% of them women, 18% minorities, as British police seek to diverse a corps often derided as “male, pale and stale”.
  • To be a woman in the US is to feel unequal, despite great strides in gender equality, according to National Opinion Research Center about gender in Trump’s America.  Being a woman in America means catcalls on the street, disrespect at work and unbalanced responsibilities at home.  Girls are taught to aspire to marriage while watching positions of power go to men.  American men, however, don’t see things the same way.

  • The corporate governance of seven of America’s ten largest institutional investors in stocks are now women.  Though concern remains that women are less likely to push greater gender diversity as an issue in discussions with management out of concern they will be perceived to have a feminist agenda, there still exists tremendous potential for women in corporate goverance to make a bigger difference.
  • On 21 January, the day after what many had assumed would be the inaugration of Hillary Clinton as America’s first female President, hundreds of thousands of women flooded the streets of Washington DC and in cities across the United States and in a number of cities abroad, in defiance against Donald Trump the man who defeated her.  The organisers of the “counter-inaugration” hoped the marches were the kick-off of a sustained campaign of protest and determination to protect women’s rights that Trump threatens.  In a show of outrage and despair, the marches brought attention to issues such as abortion, equal pay, sexual assault, police brutality, mass incarceration, voter suppression and environmental protection.  The marchers were confronting a President who has appointed only a handful of women in his Cabinet and inner circle, who has pledged to nominate a Supreme Court justice who oppose abortion rights, who has pledged to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) that covers contraception. Total attendance, just in the US, alone easily surpassed one million.

Alyssa Klein's photo.

As I look back at the first month of 2017, as I review the research I made for this blogpost, as I reflect on the wonder that is woman from a simple husband’s perspective, I am left with a number of feelings and impressions.

Much like Jack Nicholson’s character in As Good As It Gets, I feel that women have made me want to become a better man more deserving of them.

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Above: Film poster for As Good As It Gets (1997)

I am breathless with admiration at the courage, strength, preseverance, passion, compassion, wisdom and beauty inside and out that women possess.

And it astonishes me how unequally and unfairly my gender has been and continues to be towards women.

Why are we this way to the very beings who gave us life itself?

Why this sense of insecurity so many of my gender possesses when it comes to granting the same rights and privileges so many men take for granted?

Are we afraid that the empowerment of women drains the power of men?

Why do so many men assume that a woman’s ability to attract gives them some sort of right to possess and ravage a woman’s body?

When did we forget that knowing a woman is a privilege?

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Above: Film poster for Scent of a Woman (1992)

Why do so many men jealously try to dictate to women what their roles should be, how they should dress, who they should have sex with, or whether they should procreate or not?

Why do we force upon women structures and taboos that we would revolt against if they were forced upon us?

Men should not think themselves superior to women, but rather we should consider ourselves complimentary to each other and embrace equality as we cherish our differences.

As difficult as communication can be between men and women, as frustrating as it can be when those we choose to love don’t always do what we would prefer they would do, the freedom and privilege we enjoy for ourselves is also the right of women as well.

Without women sharing our strength and passion in equal but different proportion, the sky above is truly falling.

"The Blue Marble" photograph of Earth, taken by the Apollo 17 mission. The Arabian peninsula, Africa and Madagascar lie in the upper half of the disc, whereas Antarctica is at the bottom.

Above: Apollo 17 photo of Earth from space, 7 December 1972

Sources: Michael Norton, 365 Ways to Change the World: How to Make a Difference…One Day at a Time / Choe Sang-Hun, “South Korea’s effort to promote fertility backfires”, New York Times, 3 January 2017 / Nida Najar, “India official faults dress for attacks on women”, New York Times, 5 January 2017 / Liza Randall, “Why Vera Rubin deserved a Nobel”, New York Times, 5 January 2017 / Zahra Nader and Mujib Mashal, “Virginity tests in Afghanistan defy a ban”, New York Times, 7 January 2017 / Sinead O’Shea, “Ireland is revisiting its stringent ban on abortion”, New York Times, 11 January 2017 / Ellen Barry, “There are no homes left”, New York Times, 12 January 2017 / Nicholas Kristof, “A website peddling girls for sex”, New York Times, 13 January 2017 / Amanda Hess, “Rape, revenge and how we watch”, New York Times, 14 January 2017 / Alison Smale, “Putting more women on a path to power”, New York Times, 17 January 2017 / Prashant S. Rao, “British police look to shed a pale-male image”, New York Times, 18 January 2017 / Claire Cain Miller, “Gender-driven views on equality”, New York Times, 19 January 2017 / Alexandra Stevenson and Leslie Picker, “Wielding power quietly”, New York Times, 19 January 2017 / Susan Chira and Yamiche Alcindor, “Women’s anti-Trump rallies go worldwide“, New York Times, 23 January 2017 / Wikipedia

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Out of the Shadows

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 2 February 2017

Sometimes inspiration flows like sap through a maple tree.

Sometimes it is as slow-moving as molasses in January.

Those who read this blog (both of them!) or follow me on Facebook (the rest of their families!) are aware that I work…a lot.

Between working as an English teacher during the work week and at Starbucks on weekends, I don´t seem to have an abundance of leisure time.

And what leisure time is not required by my spouse´s instructions is not always used as productively as it should be, for there is much in this modern world to distract even the most resolute of urban animals.

And though I feel most alive when writing my thoughts and feelings, peppered with facts obtained through reading and research, writing – an exercise of the mind´s creative muscles – does feel like work sometimes, so my impulses don´t always cause me to leap behind the keyboard and create words that drip like honey from the lips of the gods.

Yesterday was my first day off – not counting sick days when I truly was ill with that most fatal of ailments, the man cold – in weeks, when I had no immediate urgent obligations to spouse or employers.

A much-beloved private student of mine works at the Kunsthaus in Zürich and finally after months of discussion, I took advantage of her offer to explore the museum for free.

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I thought that getting out of Casa Kerr – our humble wee apartment a short stroll away from the Lake of Constance – would aid me psychologically and inspire me creatively.

For though there are a number of ideas I am working on, words have been trickling slowly these past few weeks.

Part of the problem has been the immediacy of the moment…

It is one thing to write about problems in faraway places like Turkey or Belgium or speak of times past remembered or researched, but to capture the electricity of the moment, fresh and still sparking, this is what has been missing from both my spirit as well as my writing.

I later visited the FIFA Museum and though I see future ideas from this visit there was still lacking the sense of urgency to verbalise what I witnessed there.

Image may contain: sky, tree and outdoor

Serendipitiously I stumbled across a dozen books I had neither seen nor read before in three different bookshops, but again ideas from them must be sifted before grains of inspiration can be found lying at the bottom of the goldpan of the mind.

I returned home, began watching To Walk Invisible: The Lives of the Bronte Sisters and, like many typical husbands unsupervised by their spouses, I fell asleep on the couch.

I was awakened by a phone call from Canada.

My childhood was rather…unusual.

I have four brothers (Christopher, Thomas, Kenneth and a stepbrother Stephen) and three sisters (Valerie, Cythnia and a foster sister Victoria).

Having met or learned of my brothers and my biological sisters only when I was in my mid-twenties and finding that decades apart does not a family create, the only true sibling I have any significant contact with is my foster sister Victoria.

It was she who phoned me last night / this morning.

There are many similarities between Vicki and myself.

We both come from large families yet were raised as isolated foster children by the same Irish Canadian woman and French Canadian home owner.

We were taken from our biological families because they were unable to properly take care of us themselves.

In a revolving door type scenario, Vicki, 14 years my senior, moved out to pursue her post-secondary education when I moved in.

For a time Vicki was a French teacher while I remain an English teacher.

There is a significant age difference between ourselves and our spouses.

Vicki remains quite spiritual in her beliefs and I can be occasionally philosophical in my expression.

Vicki feels too much.

I have often been accused of thinking too much.

We both worry too much.

We both desperately need to learn and practice the tenets of St. Francis of Assisi´s Serenity Prayer:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the strength to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

And, sadly, though we both are driven by the creative impulse, we are both hampered by crippling bouts of self-doubt and discouragement.

She confessed to me last night that she had written two books and having been unsuccessful at getting them published, she simply tossed all of her work into the rubbish bin.

I love my sister and I know her mind and I am convinced that she, like me, need not worry whether her words are good enough to share with others but instead she should keep writing and keep learning how to market her writing.

Instead of seeing shadows of a winter endless in prospect and prophetically cold and unwelcoming, Vicki needs to believe that success will eventually spring her way and that the only handicaps preventing her from reaching that spring are those she has created herself.

Which leads me to the subject of Groundhog Day…

Last year I wrote a blog post called Omens and portents from a rodent.

I spoke of the tradition of Groundhog Day celebrated across many locations in Canada and the United States, where, according to folklore, if it is cloudy when a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day, then spring weather will arrive six weeks early before the spring equinox; if it is sunny and the groundhog sees its shadow and retreats back into its den to resume its hibernation then winter weather will persist for six more weeks.

I wrote of the largest Groundhog Day celebration that is held every February 2 in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where crowds as large as 40,000 have gathered to celebrate the “holiday” since 1886.

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I told of other groundhogs less famed than Punxsutawney Phil, like Wiarton Willie (an albino groundhog)(Wiarton, Ontario), Balzac Billy (Alberta), Fred la Marmotte (Val d’Espoir, Quebec), Shubenacadie Sam (Nova Scotia), Manitoba Merv (Winnipeg), Oil Springs Ollie (Ontario), Winnipeg Willow (Manitoba), Dundas Donna (Ontario)…and these are just the Canadian celebrations…

Flag of Canada

In the US, besides Punxsutawney, Groundhog Days are celebrated in Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, Connecticut, New York and many other places across the US…and not always with a groundhog.

Flag of the United States

Red Rock Canyon in Nevada has Mojave Max, a desert tortoise.

And Claude the Cajun Crawfish annually predicts the weather one day earlier in Shreveport, Louisiana.

And in faroff Srentenje, Serbia on 15 February (2 February according to the local religious Julian calendar), it is believed that if a bear awakens from his winter slumber and meets his shadow in his sleepy and confused state, the bear will get scared and go back to sleep for an additional 40 days, thus prolonging winter.

So, if it is sunny on Sretenje on 15 February, winter ain´t over yet in Serbia.

And it is this idea of a sleepy and confused state, this viewing of shadows of portents and omens to come, that first made me think of waxing political about how Donald Trump´s hair resembles a dead groundhog and how he casts shadows of doubt upon the future…

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Then Vicki´s phone call and my encouragement of her literary efforts made me think of the 1993 film Groundhog Day.

Bill Murray plays Phil Connors, an arrogant TV weatherman who, during an assignment covering the annual Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, finds himself in a time loop, repeating the same day over and over again and again.

After indulging in hedonism and committing suicide numerous times, Connors begins to re-examine his life and priorities.

Estimates regarding how long Connors remains trapped in the time loop, in real time, vary widely.

During the filming of Groundhog Day, director Harold Ramis, a Buddhist, observed that according to Buddhist doctrine, it takes 10,000 years for a soul to evolve to its next level.

Harold Ramis Oct 2009.jpg

Therefore, in a spiritual sense, the entire arc of Groundhog Day spans 10,000 years.

Groundhog Day is often considered to be an allegory of self-improvement, emphasizing that happiness comes from placing the needs of others above one’s own selfish desires.

For some Buddhists, the film’s themes of selflessness and rebirth are reflections of the Buddha’s own spiritual messages.

Buddha in Sarnath Museum (Dhammajak Mutra).jpg

Some Jews and Christians see Connors’ time loop as a representation of Purgatory, from which Connors is released once he has shed his own selfishness and commits himself to acts of love.

Above: Gustave Doré’s image of a non-fiery Purgatory illustration for Dante Alleghieri’s Purgatorio

Theologian Michael Pholey has suggested that the film could be seen as a sort of Pilgrim’s Progress.

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Above: Title page of first edition of John Bunyan´s Pilgrim’s Progress (1678)

Others see Groundhog Day as an affirmation of Friedrich Nietzsche’s directive to imagine life – metaphorically and literally – as an endless repetition of events.

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Above: Friedrich Nietzche (1844 – 1900)

The phrase “Groundhog Day”, as a result of the film, has entered into common usage as a reference to an unpleasant situation that continually repeats, as in today is SSDD – same stuff, different day.

Fourteen years after the movie´s release, “Groundhog Day” was noted as common US military slang for any day of a tour of duty in Iraq.

Major Roger Aeschliman in his Iraq War memoir Victory Denied describes guarding assorted visiting dignitaries as his “Groundhog Day”:

“The dignitaries change, but everything else remains the same.

The same airplanes drop them off at the same places.

The same helicopters take us to the same meetings with the same presenters covering the same topics using the same slides.

We visit the same troops at the same mess halls and send them away from the same airport pads to find our way home late at night.

Over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over until we are redeemed and allowed to go home.”

And this is my take on Groundhog Day, both the film and the event…

Yes, there is fear that success in our endeavours is a long long way away and that it will take 10,000 years, or at least a lifetime, for us to achieve our goals, so it is almost instinctive to return back to our caves/our burrows/our warrens and ignore the unpleasant weather and let our dreams remain dormant.

But not venturing outside our comfort zones, we avoid dangerous difficulties that may lie ahead.

But just as Phil Connors had to continually relive Groundhog Day until he finally did the day right securing his release, so must we continue to strive, despite failure after failure, until we finally learn how to succeed.

So, my sister, if you are reading these words, keep on keeping on.

Fail, learn why, fail again and again, until finally you find the formula to see your thoughts and ideas spring into the hands and minds of others for their enjoyment and enlightenment.

Ignore the shadows of doubt.

Spring will come.

Groundhog Day (movie poster).jpg

Sources: Wikipedia