Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Being Human.

'But crushing truths perish from being acknowledged.'

Albert Camus

I recently finished reading Rudy Wiebe and Yvonne Johnson`s powerful book 'Stolen Life – the journey of a Cree Woman' and am still living in that place. As it is the story of abuse, incest and murder it is not exactly a pleasant place to be. I made myself continue out of respect for the authors and the pain they must have lived in simply getting this down. It is also a transformational story with an ending of hope for all who have been down this road.

What I found interesting was my willingness to enter that place of suffering and my capacity to step deeply into Yvonne's life. Empathy would be one word to describe this human capacity to imagine the lives of others. All stories, all films, all images, require this ability for us to participate in them. It is not unique, is universal and is not confined to human beings only. We all love our dogs and can see things from their point of view and know that somehow they understand us. With practice we feel the thoughts of trees as they sway in the wind, experience the sadness of sunsets, fly out into space and cruise among the stars.

Perhaps it is not our big brain or opposing thumbs that has made us human over time but a steady refinement of relationship, our family, our tribe our environment and eventually the Creator, that final comprehensive understanding of total relationship.

Yvonne`s prayer at the end of the book:

Oh Creator, here I am, Medicine Bear Woman. Forgive my pitifulness. I have shared my pain because I know it is also the pain of my people.

I pray you

Remain with my words, I mean no harm;

May the existence you have chosen for me

Enlighten all people to a better understanding;

That we may have humility and pitifulness, so that no one needs

To suffer alone, but can find spiritual union

With all humankind.

A - Ho

Yvonne Johnson, 1998

Fare thee well, Oh Canada

While writing this piece for Canada Day ( July 1st) based on an experience in the Coral Sea, I was also aware that the Sea itself had become my country too; I had become part of this Landscape/Seascape during the often far too exciting crossing of the Pacific. I recently found a quote from the French sailor Bernard Moitessier that expressed this very well.

“I am a citizen of the most beautiful nation on earth. A nation whose laws are harsh yet simple, a nation that never cheats,which is immense and without borders, Where life is lived in the present. In this limitless nation, this nation of wind, light, and peace, there is no other ruler besides the sea.”

Fare thee well oh Canada.

We are four hundred miles off the east coast of Australia, the wind is gusting to forty knots and our schooner is hove-to in chaotic seas. This is the forth day of this storm and we are more than ready to move on to the end of our eighteen month voyage across the Pacific from our home in the Gulf Islands of British Columbia. I sit on my night watch, wedged into the cockpit, listen to my daughter’s music on the headphones and watch our big traditional gaff-rigged schooner poke her bowsprit high into the dark sky, heel lee rail under and slide away from the punch of the next breaking wave. She has been performing this dangerous dance for what seems like forever and has never missed a beat. So far.

Perhaps it is the music that sets my mind to wandering, a collection of tunes about the 'Bluenose', the Myra River, about a boat like mine running before a gale in the Atlantic, but I begin to think what it really means to be Canadian. Those songs are from the other side of the continent from my home, but like most ex patriots I have a larger view of my country than I would have back home on my island. There I might feel that Toronto was on the far side of the moon and Halifax in another orbit altogether, but now ,hanging on til morning’s light, I am deeply touched by 'Farewell to Nova Scotia' singing in my ears. There are a lot of us living far from home these days. We use our computers to keep in touch, to pipe in CBC, that coast to coast to coast lifeline, but once when my wife and I were CUSO volunteers in South America we listened to Canada on short wave radio ( Daa da da daa), even picking up the broadcast to the north which had bounced around the earth to us teaching in the headwaters of the Amazon. We fitted into our host culture but needed more than ever to feel rooted in our homeland.

The wind direction has shifted at last, the storm-centre is sliding away towards New Zealand, and is rapidly building a wicked cross sea. The regular wave pattern is now broken and chopped and this presents a new challenge. Our schooner staggers, looses her stride, smacks her broad stern hard down on the back of a wave and then shrugs, finds a new furrow in the seascape and carries on. I think of all those nameless east-coast fishermen from the past who stood on deck in seas like these and watched carefully how their schooners swam among the waves. They thought about how they would improve the design of the next boat they would build, perhaps a little flatter curve to the turn of the bilge, a steeper run to the stern. Slowly the design evolved that is keeping my boat and my family safe from harm. ``Good old boat!``, I give the deck a pat just as a slosh of warm salt water trickles down my neck. I stand to check for shipping, catch the full roar of wind in rigging and the crash of the waves and then settle back to the music in my ears.

I am thinking about that country of mine far back around the curve of the earth: about those things we pretty much take for granted; our communities, our system of government, our social programs that reach out to support all of us, even those obvious things like the railways that were built for us by preceding generations. They were built by people like that nameless fisherman, like the creators of the music now playing in my ears. Step by step, piece by piece, like designing and building a boat, a lot of dedicated folk pouring out their lives to build a better country. A fair and generous community that we could be proud of, that could ride out storms and carry us and future generations safely home.

At last the moon breaks through the clouds and the wind is definitely easing. A few more difficult hours of bone shaking seas and by morning’s light we will hoist our sails again and resume our voyage westward.