Tag Archives: suffering

Remembering…but wishing we didn’t keep adding to those needing remembering…

It’s Remembrance Day and I am filled with muddled emotions. I feel for all who served and died, all their families, all those who were harmed by war, on both sides. I don’t want to take anything away from their sacrifices. But I detest the glorification of war.

Maybe it’s cos I just came from Skyfall, where M asks the inquiry panel, “How safe do you feel?” just before the entire room is exploded by gunfire. The reality is I don’t feel very safe, given all the wars rumbling all over the world, the continual cruelty to each other. I’m listening to a song that talks about how much courage it takes to fight a war. I can’t help but think it takes more courage NOT to fight a war. To hold people accountable without violence, to peace keep, in all its forms. To be willing to share with the less fortunate, the old “Bread not bombs” theory.

I’m not taking away from the terrible suffering so many went through in the “great” wars. POWs and those maimed, those suffering from mental disabilities, or those, like my dad, who were radiated and died of cancer years later. He may not have suffered right at the time of the war, but he sure did later.

It’s just that as the frenzy around Remembrance Day grows, year after year, I worry about the effect this has on those who would wage war. Those who feel violence is the way to deal with disagreements or those pesky world leaders who espouse nationalization of industries that we want.  The people who send people into war are never on the front line, and their motives are rarely pure. The beating of the war drums works as they commit us to more and more situations where the goal is protected wealth. Killing for profits is ugly, but if we think it’s for a good cause, we’ll bite. In the US during the last few wars, it was deemed positively anti-American to question the war. It’s becoming like that here.

My dad enlisted when he was under 18. How many others did? Most of my extended family. Lots and lots and lots, because this was THE way to prove your manliness, to prove you had pride in yourself and your country. It’s twisted when you look at it a bit. Why wouldn’t the ability to not fight be considered more strength? You need only look at the faces of the soldiers doing peacekeeping during the OKA crisis, or those on the lines in Afghanistan before mission creep, or the soldiers stuck in Rwanda during the terrible carnage there. The strength needed to not fight was incredible. It broke some of them. As did killing.

I don’t have my dad’s full service story. He died before I took the opportunity to learn it from him. I wish I knew more. He never spoke of it except to mention he came back with TB and that the nurses cried when they saw the X-ray. He spent time on his return in the TB H-huts in Kingston, and taught himself to paint. He lived. And he’d tell one other story, which I think tells about his nature as well:

He was fixing a radar tower in the Bahamas where he was serving with the Navy (Oh for one photo of him in his whites!), and he dropped a wrench when he was way up in the tower. It fell from side to side, hitting various components, breaking them and sending out showers of sparks and minor explosions as it crashed back and forth, back and forth and he watched in horror. When it finally stopped, he shouted “DARN IT!” The Sergeant who was at the bottom of the tower checking on the noise gave him hell for not using the proper swear word. As for Dad, he felt completely emasculated. He told me it was the worst because here he’d had a perfectly good excuse to let loose a string of blue profanities and all he could muster at the time was a darn.

Such a gentleman. Makes me laugh every time I think of it.

Thinking of all those who were lost in all the wars great, small and in-between, and those who continue to lose their lives in state-sanctioned violence. Unlike many, I wish we could forget war. Unfortunately we have fresh reminders every day. Even if we do wear the poppies.

How about we work on ending the need to wear them?

(PS: the poppies here are fundraisers for the veterans – one of the good things we could do is look after vets properly, hey? So they don’t have to go begging for coins.)


Writing and waiting, writing and waiting

Writers know about time passages. There’s the percolation time as stories germinate in the mind, root around for a bit, finally reach their little tendrils into the light. Then there’s the expanding/contracting time of writing the story – magical as it whisks by when the writing goes well, dragging on when the ideas don’t flow or your characters misbehave or your dog develops stomach problems just as you need to write something down and you lose it as you hustle the dog out and scoop the remains…

And then there’s the editing time, which can expand infinitely into space unless you grab your writing hand firmly in your non-dominant hand and say “It’s good enough!”, only to find several misspellings as you do a last read through…

But finally all of these times are expended and you send your little marvel (or big marvel) in to a contest or a journal or something, and move on to something new, while in the back of your head, you wait.

And wait.

And wait.

And then there’s that waiting bit.

I’ve a bundle of stories languishing in contests all over the place and I’m not hearing from the places I sent them to. Now this could be because they haven’t decided as yet, but I fear it is because they didn’t make the grade and so the length of time in waiting is actually busy time for the winners while they are reached and congratulated and edited and published before the losers are notified that they’ve lost.

So the time seems long only in that I can feel someone else’s excitement somewhere else and it makes me frustrated and it makes me lose confidence in my writing. I can see the others jumping up and down and smiling ear to ear (I’ve had just enough experience with success to know how it goes) while dozens or more writers sit silent, turning grayer by the day, gradually letting the ink dry in their fountain pens.

It’s like having to sit through a spelling bee that you’ve already lost, watching others spell things happily on while you sip water and try to be enthusiastic for them. While mentally wishing you were anywhere else including the dentist, where at least you’d have something to do with your mouth besides smile inanely.

And then I get angry, and I say to myself, Heck, they are publishing all SORTS of excrement out there these days – surely I can’t be THAT bad, and so the germination process starts over again. Creeping along the ground slowly, little green wisp like feelers.

Then the waiting ends.

“Join us,” the contest people say, “In congratulating the latest winner of the XYZ contest, who have won not only publication but a country-wide promotional tour and a three book contract!”

I am finding it hard to join in. Not that I grudge their success, nope, not at all. I hardly ever walk into a big bookstore and weep about all the hundreds of books out there that are no doubt better than mine. Or at least published, bringing in full dollars of self-esteem to their authors.

I haven’t given up hope, yet. After all, I’m still waiting… 


Doing Tonglen

I can’t pretend to understand the practice of Buddhism, but I am dipping heavily into a wonderful book When Things Fall Apart, by Pema Chodron.  It’s an excellent reference for those who are dealing with chaos and change in their own lives, as I am in mine. I usually read a chapter and then go away and think about it for a week or so, then dip in again. The thing that had hit me most until now was her statement that we must abandon hope, because that leads to despair. Interesting thought.  Had to chew on that one for a full month.

Today, though, I was in the tub reading, thinking about my poor (ex)mother-in-law, who is dying with a recently diagnosed ALS. She’s a fighter, but I know she is getting weary of having to give up everyday things, to lose her sense of competence, to feel a burden. It’s not her, she who spent all of her life serving others. Of all of the horribleness of this illness, that’s the thing that bothers me the most, perhaps because my loss of identity is still so close as I cope with disability and MS and all the much lesser evils I live with every day.

So I read about Tonglen, breathing in other’s suffering, breathing out relaxation and joy, and wish with all my fervent little heart that it was so simple, that I could breathe in her suffering, and that of everyone else who has to suffer from ALS, to breathe in health suffering in total, bring it on board my frail body, and breathe out, breathe out, that feeling of joy and relaxation. I mean, they even have T-shirts with the theory on it.  Can’t be that tough, can it, if it can be reduced to a T-Shirt…

But there’s this tiny problem. I’m too busy wallowing my own self. I had set up tonight to be a total self-affirming, aggressive self-care evening, one where I could be selfish and feel a bit bleu and I even bought pillowcases to embroider that had forget-me-nots on them in a true flashback to times of old when I used to be a sweet young hopeful creature that did things like embroidery.  I even met another woman in the shop and talked her into doing some, too – we both reminisced about lazy-daisy stitches and French knots (called, hilariously, Colonial knots, in my American kit – must have been from post 9-11 and freedom fries…), outline stitches and the horrible behaviour of most types of green embroidery floss, which WILL tangle if you just look at it a bit sideways. I planned to wallow in the bath and do girly things to my legs and inhale scented oils and listen to soft music and pretend I wasn’t alone on a Saturday night, thinking of how I am expected to survive on a diet of no salt, no fat, no chocolate and no booze, and wondering whether surviving was really all it’s cut out to be.

Then doom.  “Oh”, I thought, “I really should dip into Pema’s book again.  After all, she’s been such a help…”

And now I feel so small and insignificant and as if I should have been instead sucking others pain into myself all night like a vast mountain of Bounty (the quicker picker-upper) instead of just chewing on my own.  I felt awash with guilt for not giving cash to the scary panhandler I passed the other day, for every mean thought (and there have been a few) about a certain person who shall remain nameless but let’s just suppose she is planning to marry my ex, just saying, for every time I was too lazy to offer a smile or a positive thought or whatever to my fellow travellers.

It’s pathetic. Surely I should be due a good wallow now and again (oh all right, for those who know me well, they’ve been a little too frequent these days for even my liking) without that ol’ guilt rearing its ugly head? Can’t I fret about my ingrown hairs on my legs like any normal woman without being cast mentally to the starving hordes in Asia who probably have no hair because of malnutrition or wish they didn’t have ingrown shistosomes in their legs that are busy migrating to their eyes to make them blind (look it up)? Surely I can feel a wee bit desirous of a huge honking chocolate bar  – one of those Dairy Milk ones with 65% fat that stretch when they are melty and fill your mouth with a sensual gloopiness without thinking of people who can’t chew anymore and who can never experience that feeling ever ever again? Maybe I can feel my aches and pains from being too lazy to exercise without thinking about all my fellow MS’ers who can’t exercise anymore because their neurons are in worse shape than mine?

Well, apparently not.  I don’t know whether it is that Roman Catholic upbringing that inserts guilt into your DNA, or whether it’s the persuasive argument of Pema as she tells us to be less petty, and reach to be better, but my “aggressive self-care” evening is ruined. I think I’ll head off and eat some bran or something, or maybe just fix myself a strong drink, and then try to breathe out some joy in the alcohol fumes.