Category Archives: Inspiration

Thoughts About New Years Resolutions

New Years Resolutions
New Years Resolutions

Like a lot of sensible citizens of the Similkameen Valley, I long ago ceased tormenting myself with New Years resolutions that really didn’t stir my imagination or my will to persevere. Looking back over my lifetime, I see that generally when significant inner change has come, it has not been the result of a New Years resolution. Although it required time, eventually I grasped the silliness of resolving to not eat chocolates or donuts.

In retrospect, I understand now that significant change for me has at times been born of necessity, as when I visited the Toastmasters club in the offices of Langley Township. Walking into that room I was much like a fearful, whimpering cur, tail tucked tightly between its trembling legs. Although I was conscious of what I was doing, it was nevertheless a reckless plunging into territory considerably outside my comfort zone.

I had long considered myself inept in front of a crowd of any size. Exposing my lack of training and inexperience before this group of pretty accomplished public speakers brought on a disquieting weakness in my knees. Gathering up my scant courage and paying the membership fee that day, I embarked on an arduous journey that has taught me some lessons about how to introduce positive change into my life.

The impetus for joining Toastmasters was a fervent desire to participate more effectively in the issues bedeviling our community. I was willing to take this initial step into unknown and dangerous terrain because I believed it was important. Not eating chocolates or donuts might be desirable but seemingly not important enough to make a firm, irrevocable decision.

Possibly bringing about change requires an element of adventure and even danger. Certainly for me becoming a Toastmaster, while not physically hazardous, did introduce a serious threat to my ego. Evaluators of my speeches began making me aware of habits that were distracting for the audience. One said, “Art played the accordian today,” a reference to my repetitive hand gestures. Another observed that “Art did a lot of pacing.” To become a more effective communicator I would have to listen to what these members were telling me. And I needed to apply their suggestions for improvement.

The Toastmasters program provides plenty of encouragement, but after 6 months I felt demoralized, my sensitive ego battered by a growing awareness of my seemingly myriad deficiencies. Much of the battering was coming, not from evaluations by fellow members, but from my own overly critical self-evaluations.

After much soul searching I began to understand that my negative thoughts were dragging me down. I asked myself a question that changed my focus. Was I willing to accept ignominious defeat, or would I dig deep and make a more serious commitment to my purpose in doing this?

I began altering my focus, reminding myself of my desire to make a constructive contribution to my community. This made it easier for me to hear the encouraging comments of evaluators, and to be aware of the progress I was making. In time I was able to turn the experience into an adventure. I set a goal of writing and delivering one speech each month, in addition to serving regularly in other roles. I attended meetings faithfully and made a firm decision to always follow through on my commitments to the club. Some of my distracting habits, like erratic, repetitive hand gestures began falling away.

In time it became easier, even enjoyable. I began speaking outside the club, a couple of times addressing the mayor and council of Abbotsford on environmental issues.

In my years as a Toastmaster, I saw some members grow phenomenally. Others though, became discouraged and drifted away. One member with good potential joined because she dreamed of becoming a professional public speaker. When she didn’t place well in her first speech contest she left, apparently forgetting her reason for joining.

The Toastmasters experience has helped me understand that to attain positive growth, it’s important to have a powerful reason. Affirming the purpose regularly is useful. In my case this provided the resolve to commit more deeply in the midst of perceived failure. Maybe the time will yet come when I’ll decide to dump the chocolates and donuts habit, but not this year. New Years Resolutions can be productive if they have the power to stir our imagination and our will to persevere.

Look Thy Last On All Things Lovely

This summer I thought of Walter de la Mare’s line, “look thy last on all things lovely every hour.” It had become indelibly imprinted on my memory when I was still in school decades ago. Although I don’t recall thinking about it consciously at that time, it probably was a reminder that the colour and beauty in people and all life have a finite shelf life.

 

img_0506

One glorious day as Linda and I were walking across the tailings that remain from the gold mining era, de la Mare’s words quietly alerted me to the spectacular splendour surrounding us. I decided to record some of the awesome scenes impacting our senses every day, in a variety of situations. The following are a few excerpts from my growing collection of personal encounters with beauty and colour.

I noticed Phaedra’s golden hair and pretty face at the potluck to raise funds for the Tillotson family after their home burned. She was at a table with her children. I didn’t know her and was hesitant to ask if I could take her picture. Feeling she would bring a touch of colour and interest, I approached her with the question. She looked at me rather quizzically. “Why?” she asked, obviously perplexed at this request from a stranger.

I’m looking for a pretty face for my blog,” I answered.

Phaedra, a lovely young lady.
Phaedra, a lovely young lady.

Her dubious expression suggested she doubted I was serious in selecting her for this role. After a moment of hesitation and consideration, she graciously agreed. Anywhere else I might have been quickly rebuffed, but this is Hedley. And she is pretty.

Beauty on Lynn Wells' yard.
Beauty on Lynn Wells’ yard.

Lynn Wells had a luxurious assortment of sunflower plants this summer. While enjoying a cup of tea with her partner Bill Day, I asked permission to get a few photos. It occurred to me I should have Bill in the midst of that brilliance. He’s a colourful character himself and has an adventurous past.

Bill Day adds his own charm to the beauty.
Bill Day adds his own charm to the beauty.

Linda and I hike up Hospital Hill or along 20 Mile Creek virtually every day. This entails crossing the bridge over the creek. Almost without exception, we stand quietly on the bridge for a few moments, enthralled by the changes that occur in water levels, colours of the trees, the towering mountains around us, the smell of clean air, etc. Each side of the bridge offers its distinctive, attention holding ambiance.

img_0514

This former tailings pond is about a 20 minute walk from town. In summer the growth takes on a shimmering golden hue. In autumn the gold colouring gives way to a rich brown. Surrounded by the green mountains, this majestic scene is always an inspiration. Sometimes we stand quietly, in contemplative awe and silence, overwhelmed by a sense of total insignificance.

Now, in late autumn with winter already whitening the mountain peaks, I’m becoming aware once again that this season, like the others, invites us to “look thy last on all things lovely every hour.”

Penticton Vees, A Cinderella Team

Net minder Ivan McLelland in Berlin, Germany
Net minder Ivan McLelland in Berlin, Germany

Although the Penticton Vees had won the coveted Allan Cup in 1954, a huge uproar ensued when they were selected to represent Canada in the 1955 World Hockey Championship. “Some at the top of the Canadian hockey scene insisted on an all-star team,” Ivan McLelland told Linda and me during a 2 hour conversation in his comfortable Penticton home. “They complained that at 23 I was too young and inexperienced to be in the net. They wanted Harry Lumly of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Canada had lost to the Soviets the previous year and winning was a matter of national pride.”

Ivan McLelland in his home in Penticton, BC
Ivan McLelland in his home in Penticton, BC

Born in South Porcupine, a small Ontario community, Ivan has experienced a good deal of success in his 85 years, but he certainly didn’t get off to an auspicious start. “My dad worked away from home a lot,” he said. “We lived in what was virtually a shack. With 14 kids, my mother’s life was difficult. I got in a lot of trouble. When I was hauled before a judge it really scared me.”

Fortunately, hockey attracted his interest at a young age. “We played on the ponds all winter,” he told us. “When the ice melted, we played road hockey and baseball. Father Les Costello noticed me and asked me to try out for the local juvenile hockey team. Hockey turned me around.” Like a lot of Canadian boys, he started thinking NHL. “Often I lay on the floor of our home, dreaming about playing at that level.”

He wasn’t a good student. “In grade 10 the principal suggested I quit school and find a job.” He was hired by the local gold mine and worked underground. To help his Mom keep the family together, he handed over most of his earnings to her. For 2 years he played for the mine team, the Dome Porkies.

In the net he was agile, with quick reflexes. He was developing an ability to focus intensely on the puck. A New York Rangers scout noticed his skill and grit and he was sent to the Vancouver Canucks, at that time a New York “farm” team.

He smiled at this point. “I made the team but Gump Worsly was in goal. This was 1951 and there was no place for a backup goalie. Coley Hall, the owner, wanted to send me to Penticton where the Vees were being assembled as a team. He told me it was the most beautiful city in B.C. and the only place in Canada where I’d see girls in 2 piece bathing suits. He also told me I’d have to be tough minded because many of the players would be cast-offs from other teams, so we weren’t likely to win a lot.”

Ivan reflected for a moment, then said, “I was the first player to ever put on a Vees uniform. We were an assortment of disparate characters. Some quiet, some crazy partyers. That first season we won 15 of 54 games. The fans cheered us whether we won or lost.”

Goal tending is as much mental as physical,” Ivan observed. “In 1954 we played 102 games. In the playoffs for the Allan Cup we were the underdogs. We shouldn’t have been there. Every team was better, on paper. We had to come from behind at each level.”

After winning the Allan Cup they were selected to represent Canada in the Hockey World Championship in West Germany. Wanting to squeeze them out, the top hockey people required the team to raise $30,000 in 2 months, a virtual impossibility. An Alberta radio DJ drew attention to this and said he was sending the team $10.00. People responded and in one month the money was in place.

Coach Warwick courageously insisted on taking the entire team and the players rewarded him with a determined, high calibre effort. Ivan confounded Canadian hockey brass, posting 4 shutouts, a record which still stands. He allowed only 6 goals. The Vees defeated the Soviets’ “Big Red Machine” 5-0.

World Hockey Championship Trophy awarded 1953 - 1959
World Hockey Championship Trophy awarded 1953 – 1959

Ivan has received many forms of recognition, including induction into the BC Sports Hall of Fame (2005). His book “From Gold Mine to Gold Medal” sold out very quickly. He speaks to community groups 25-30 times a year. His awesome power to focus is still in place. “I’m telling the story of the Penticton Vees to inspire people to believe they too can rise above difficult circumstances and beat the odds.”

Ivan with a plaque presented by City of Penticton in 2010 to the 6 members of the team still alive at that time.
Ivan with a plaque presented by City of Penticton in 2010 to the 6 members of the team still alive at that time.

Amassing Wealth By Spending

Charging Bull Statue, sometimes known as the Wall Street Bull (wikipedia)
Charging Bull Statue, sometimes known as the Wall Street Bull (wikipedia)

Apparently many of us in this wealthy nation agree with our Prime Minister that if we spend enough money, there will be endless sunny days ahead. Given that, according to the TD Bank, Canada’s deficit for the current fiscal year could be $34 billion, and the debt load of individual Canadians has jumped upward again, we must be well on our way to a state of exquisite euphoria. Possibly I’m experiencing some puzzlement at this thinking because I grew up under the influence of parents who lived through the Great Depression and weren’t aware of this “amassing wealth by spending” formula.

Having some experience with life’s evasive curve balls, I’m inclined to agree with Aldous Huxley’s observation “reality doesn’t cease to exist just because we ignore it.” Anyone living a high roller life style based on high limit credit cards could benefit from reading “Great by Choice. Uncertainty, Chaos and Luck: Why some thrive despite them all.” Based on unstinting research, authors Jim Collins and Morton T Hanson offer a perspective that would likely be disconcerting to those at the highest echelons of most governments, and also some deep in debt citizens. They suggest “the dominant pattern of history is not stability but instability and disruption.” They contend we need to expect chaos and upheaval in our lives, and plan for them.

Collins and Hanson compare the strategies of highly successful companies operating in turbulent conditions, with others that have achieved only mediocre results in similar circumstances. It’s when they step away from the corporate world and examine the strategies of 2 polar expeditions that their findings and recommendations become fascinating and useful at a personal level.

In June, 1910, two rival expeditions set out for the South Pole, one under the leadership of Roald Amundsen and the other led by Robert Falcon Scott.

Amundsen’s philosophy is succinctly captured by his statement “Victory awaits him who has everything in order. Luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time. This is called bad luck.”

Amundsen’s preparation fully backs up his words. To condition his body, he rode 2000 miles on a bike. He lived with the Inuit to learn about surviving in extreme cold weather. Knowing he might be forced to eat food to which he wasn’t accustomed, he ate raw dolphin meat. He enlisted expert, well conditioned skiers for the expedition and used dogs because they were suited to harsh polar conditions. Also, he could shoot penguins and seals to feed the dogs. For the crew he took along plenty of extra food and set up 7 depots. He made a decision to travel 20 miles every day, when the sun was shining and also in snow and cold wind. Along the trail he erected 6 foot high cairns as markers for the return journey.

Scott followed a less rigorous, less disciplined approach to preparation. He didn’t require his crew to become proficient on skis. He chose ponies and motorized sleighs to haul supplies. All feed for the ponies needed to be hauled. Because, unlike dogs, they sweated, they needed to be dried with blankets. The ponies didn’t have the stamina and died along the way. The engines on the motorized sleighs cracked in the frigid temperatures. When the ponies and motorized sleighs gave out, the men needed to haul the sleighs. Scott had not taken extra food so there weren’t sufficient calories for the more strenuous labour. He set up only 2 depots.

Roald Amundsen & his dog team at the South Pole (coolantarctica.com)
Roald Amundsen & his dog team at the South Pole (coolantarctica.com)

Amundsen arrived at the South Pole on December 14, 1911, Scott on January 17, 1912. On the return trip, Scott and 4 men died due to starvation, only 10 miles from the next depot. Amundsen and his entire crew returned safely and had actually gained weight.

Collins and Hanson point out that like Amundsen, the best corporations understand there will be unanticipated, potentially calamitous difficulties. They plan for these “Black Swan” events with such measures as building a substantial contingency fund that enable them to survive and even thrive, while other companies are failing.

Unfortunately, our politicians may not choose to follow this advice. I do believe though that each of us can benefit by evaluating our borrowing and spending, and thereby ensure we have control of our family budget. Meticulous planning and preparation will give us balance, decrease stress and create greater satisfaction in life.

On Guard For Canada

Remembrance Day 2014 in Hedley, BC
Remembrance Day 2014 in Hedley, BC

Listening to the bagpipes and watching the aging veterans in uniform, I always experience a tugging at the heart on Remembrance Day. They’re a reminder that during the 20th century our troops fought with valor and tenacity against the forces of Kaiser Wilhelm, then Hitler. They stood on guard against the aggressions of Stalin and his descendants, then served with distinction in Afghanistan. Given the successful track record against degenerate aggressors, it’s tempting to become complacent and believe our nation is secure.

The Procession of the Trojan Horse in Troy by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo
The Procession of the Trojan Horse in Troy by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo

Times have changed radically and the dangers we face today are not always physical. Although it may seem unrelated, the numerous malicious Facebook responses to Andrea DeMeer’s column a couple of weeks ago alerted me to an insidious enemy already deep inside our defense lines. It’s strategy for penetrating our borders is eerily similar to that of the Greeks when they built a wooden horse and left it as a “gift” at the doors to Troy. The citizens of Troy brought the horse inside the city’s impregnable walls. That night they slept soundly, believing the Greek siege had ended and their enemy had finally been thwarted. As is well known, while they slept, Greek warriors poured from inside the horse, opened the city gates for their army, and ransacked the city.

In her column Andrea wrote about being groped outside the Princeton court house. She could have named the groper but chose not to. Even so, a number of Facebook goons launched a vicious tirade of hateful comments against her. Their assault is troubling because it suggests there is a contingent of individuals committed to shredding the values and fabric of our society.

I realize that one local, seemingly isolated incident does not in itself portend disaster. If we consider events across our nation though, we might come to the uncomfortable conclusion that Canada is under attack from advocates of morally destructive thinking. The murder of an innocent teenage girl in Abbotsford last week is a recent example of evil stalking our nation.

History is replete with examples of complacent societies falling prey to destructive forces. J.D. Unwin, the eminent British anthropologist studied 80 civilizations spanning some 3,000 years. He wrote that “In 100 per cent of the cases, when these civilizations fell, it was because they abused the freedoms they had. They no longer honoured families, values deteriorated, people turned to immoral ways and crime abounded.”

Unlike an attack in a conventional war, we cannot dispatch an army against this aggressor. Who will defend us and how will it be done?

Some years ago historian and diplomat George F. Kennan expressed similar concerns for America. He wrote, “in the west, both in the traditions of Christianity and Judaism, we were brought up to feel individual responsibility. There is in the U.S. no one to hold people to that today. Churches have lost the power to do so, the state cannot attempt to do so, and our two political parties would not know how to begin to do so. They cater to what is basest in the American electorate.” The venomous rhetoric employed by both candidates in the 2016 U.S. election makes it clear there has been significant further deterioration since Kennan’s time. Anyone observing the Canadian scene might agree that we too are moving inexorably in a similar direction.

Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” We cannot expect that our government will push back against the forces seeking to destroy our social structures and the values that undergird our way of life. Their foremost objective is to be re-elected.

I do not meant to suggest that all is lost. It is encouraging that some readers have supported Andrea DeMeer with positive Facebook comments. I was also heartened at reading the supportive letter to the editor penned by Hedley resident Kim English.

People like this understand that when a man gropes a woman and other men applaud, we cannot just stand by and shake our heads in disapproval. On Remembrance Day we will honour those who fought heroically to defend our way of life. When we sing “O Canada, we stand on guard for thee,” we need to remind ourselves to support those who express views that attract the ire of the faceless denizens of the internet underworld.

World Series Provides Lesson For Life

Original caption: General view of Forbes Field, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. October 1966 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
Original caption: General view of Forbes Field, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. October 1966 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

With baseball’s World Series approaching, hordes of loyal Canadians are once again placing faith in the hometown Toronto Blue Jays. I’m not one of them, even though I’m aware die-hard Jay fans may deem me to be unpatriotic, possibly even treasonous. I just can’t dredge up the fervour of my friend Abe who complains to his wife when they are invited out on a Jays game day.

For me baseball lost much of its mystique when the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to L.A. at the end of the 1957 season. Almost since childhood, I experienced a sense of awe and near reverence for them. Each year I hoped Duke Snyder, Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella would lead a winning crusade against the hutzpah of the mighty New York Yankees. I got my wish only once, in 1955.

Recently my interest in baseball was somewhat rekindled by Jim Reisler’s, “The Best Game Ever”, an account of the 1960 World Series that matched the fabled, trophy rich Yankees against the underdog Pittsburgh Pirates. “Cinderella” teams like the Pirates still excite and inspire me, even though they aren’t likely to win the championship. I like them for their grit and unwillingness (or inability) to acknowledge that their soaring hopes will be dashed in the end.

The Yankees came with a proud history. Their teams had already won 18 Series, beginning in 1923. The Pirates had last reached the famed pinnacle of baseball success 35 years ago. They had no players of heroic stature to give them the resolve to battle legendary superstars like outfielders Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, catcher Yogi Berra, and pitcher Whitey Ford. The magical Yankees had a reputation for finding a way to win. The lowly Pirates could have wondered if, in placing them in the hands of this formidable team, fate had decided to punish them for some forgotten misdeed in their less than stellar past.

In spite of the intense psychological pressure that came with playing New York, the Pirates refused to quake or crack. They didn’t think of quitting even when they went scoreless in two games. They didn’t despair at the knowledge Yankee sluggers were hitting more home runs, 10 in total, compared to their 4. At times the lethal bats of the Yankees were driving in runs almost at will, seeming to portend impending disaster for the less powerful Pirates. Still they refused to fold.

I pay attention to the world of sports, at least in part, because at times there are lessons I can apply in my own life. In this David and Goliath contest, I’m impressed by the Pirates’ capacity and will to battle tenaciously against a vastly more talented team. I’m reminded of the words of a black actress who had grown up in a big city ghetto. Personal experience had convinced her that “it’s always too soon to quit.” This is particularly true when we face challenges in health, relationships, finances or employment. As a friend once told me, “something unexpected can happen to change the odds.”

In this epic contest the Yankees had 91 hits to the Pirates 60. Their team batting average was .336. The Pittsburgh average was a meager .256. Mantle’s personal average was .400. Berra batted .318 Howard’s average was .462.

The Pirates hit a lot of singles. They benefited from solid pitching and fielding, and an unflinching determination to battle on to the last inning and the umpire’s final “out!” At the end of the sixth game, the series was tied at 3 games each. Compared to New York’s hefty margins in their wins, the Pirates margins seemed anemic.

Now, in the seventh and final game, the Yankees had tied the score in the first half of the ninth inning. The pressure was intense as the Pirates’ second baseman Bill Mazeroski strode purposefully to the plate. He was not known as a home run threat, but his bat connected solidly and he smashed a rising line drive toward the left field fence. Fans watched, scarcely breathing, as the ball soared upward and over the wall, the only game 7 “walk off” home run in World Series history. The Pirates erupted in wild jubilation at having won. The shocked Yankees stood in disbelief.

Later Mickey Mantle said, “We scored 55 runs to their 27. The best team lost.” In baseball, and in life, “it’s always too soon to quit.”

Mazeroski's Home Run
Mazeroski’s Home Run

Three Donuts

Left to Right: Jeremy (my son), Neil (a friend) & myself. The donuts were already consumed.
Left to Right: Jeremy (my son), Neil (a friend) & myself. The donuts were already consumed.

At the wedding of our grand daughter Jordana this summer, the caterers provided large platters piled high with freshly made glazed donuts. This apparently was in deference to the groom, a Mountie. Because I find donuts virtually irresistible, we don’t have them in our home. I later confessed to Linda I’d eaten three. She didn’t express even minimal empathy when I had a restless night.

Half a dozen beer might have been more beneficial than the donuts, but Dr. Rashid Buttar would not approve of either. In “9 Steps to Keep the Doctor Away”, he offers an extensive program for optimal health. Admittedly, he’s somewhat of a “no fun guy.” “Cut out all pastries,” he admonishes the reader, then adds, without apology, “also no processed foods, no sugar, no soft drinks.” He would disapprove of virtually every food that rates close to a 10 out of 10 on my personal list of favourite meals. Pyrogies, for example, and mashed potatoes. Both with gravy. Add to this mix Linda’s home made buns and cookies. And frozen Wild Black Cherry yogurt. See what I mean when I say he’s a no fun guy?

According to Dr. Buttar, by faithfully staying away from his forbidden list we promote the cleansing of the body and achieve more robust health. As should be expected, he unabashedly advocates eating only organic and drinking no coffee or alcohol.

A very small percentage of individuals possess the wisdom and discipline to live in the manner prescribed by Dr. Buttar. I do not qualify for membership in this elite minority of Super Persons. For me, healthy habits are difficult to develop. Unhealthy ones are difficult to discard. However, last year I was becoming aware of the excessive toll time was exacting on my body. This prompted me to pick up Dr. Buttar’s book. It was time to cease being complacent, believing my body could single handedly cope with the various additives in our food and toxins in the air and water.

In spite of grumbling about Dr. Buttar’s stringent program, I quickly realized he does offer interesting and helpful counsel concerning exercise, meditation or prayer (he isn’t fussy about which form we choose), cleansing the body of toxins, drinking plenty of water, and more. He also urges us to laugh often, so maybe I’m unfair in saying he’s a no fun guy.

I noted that some prominent U.S. physicians have roundly condemned Dr. Buttar, but I wasn’t troubled by this. How could I argue with an approach that preaches prevention rather than waiting for an illness to strike and then being given a prescription that might have unwelcome side effects?

An experience about a dozen years ago helped me give the 9 Steps a fair evaluation. My back was seriously injured in a case of medical malpractice and the medical profession had no remedy. My MD prescribed powerful pain killers that induced suicidal thoughts. At night I sat on the floor of our livingroom, thinking about throwing myself under the wheels of a dump truck. My other thought was a desire to break the legs of the man who had so cavalierly performed a maneuver whose disastrous outcome he should have foreseen. “We didn’t know what to do with you,” the MD told me later.

By the time the problem was somewhat corrected, permanent damage had occurred and my physical strength was depleted. I pretty much needed to start over.

A personal trainer convinced me to get serious about stretches and exercise. Linda joined me in this. Now, before breakfast, we stretch and exercise with the fervour of an 8th century monk. Well, that may be embellishing somewhat, but we rarely make exceptions, even on Christmas morning and on our birthdays. I don’t claim we enjoy it, just that for us it’s necessary.

Why the emphasis on exercise? “It causes a more efficient use of sugar,” Dr. Buttar says. “Also, it decreases blood pressure and heart rate. It increases lean body mass and strengthens the immune system. It increases range of movement, recovery and stamina.” Oh yes, it also enhances sex drive.

It’s generally accepted by medical people that nutrition and physical activity play a significant role in preventing cancer, stroke, heart attack, diabetes and other health issues. I am careful, but also human. If there is another Mountie wedding, I may still establish a new personal donut consumption record.

He Still Lives Mightily

John Merriman of Keremeos, BC
John Merriman of Keremeos, BC

After our conversation with 97 year old John Merriman in his Keremeos home, Linda was reminded of counsel offered by the ancient Israeli King Solomon. In his Old Testament book Ecclesiastes, Solomon urged “whatever your hand finds to do, do it mightily.” John has certainly packed a lot of living into his years. He lived in a time when men doing physical work often needed to contend with daunting expectations and challenges. His lean, still robust frame and resolute attitude suggest the inner steel required in those early unforgiving decades.

John was born near Des Moines, Iowa, then at age 5 was taken by his parents to England. In 1927 the family emigrated to Canada and settled on a farm in Birch Hill, Saskatchewan. Here he developed a rugged work ethic. “I clipped sheep, castrated hogs and worked on machinery,” he said. “I was mechanically inclined.”

Later, as a young man I got a job on a farm working for $100 a year.” According to “Stories by John Merriman”, a book written by a great grand daughter, he had a deep religious experience during this time and it shaped the rest of his life.

He subsequently worked on a road building operation. “We were cutting spruce timbers into cord wood, using swede saws, cross cut saws and axes. This is where I first saw a man working with a chain saw. Two men with a cross cut saw could buck logs faster than he could.”

They were working in muddy terrain and often up to 4 layers of logs needed to be laid down. “The earth sucked them under,” he explained. “Somewhere there is probably still a D6 cat buried in the mud out there.”

On a sawmill job he displayed resolve and steady nerves. “A man had his hand cut off by a big saw,” he remembered. “We applied a tourniquet and bandaged the wound. I put him in my car and we set off to the nearest doctor. Every few miles my car came to a stop. The points were corroded so I’d file them. When we met a police car, I stopped in the middle of the road so he couldn’t pass. We put the man in his car and I returned to the mill. All work had ceased because no one would go near the hand still lying there. I buried it.”

In 1942 he enlisted in the Canadian army and was assigned to the Signal Corps. “They paid me $1.10 a day. The food wasn’t so good though, mutton day after day.”

They were each given a “house wives” kit and expected to darn their own socks, or pay for new ones. “As a boy I had watched my mom darn,” he said, “so I could figure out how to do it. Most of the men smoked. I chewed snuff which cost me 10 cents a can. It damaged my teeth and gums though and when it went up to 75 cents, I quit.”

In Italy the truck he was driving was hit by German artillery. It burned up and he suffered burns to his face and arms. “They covered the burns with vaseline and put me in a tent with other disabled men. The tent smelled so bad the food was delivered to the door in a tub and left there. Some men had lost their arms and we helped them eat.”

While John was away, his father lost the family farm due to medical bills. John had saved his army pay, and upon discharge he bought another farm so his father could be on the land again. John began putting together a mill business and also a very successful trucking and construction company.

In March 1945 he went to the local improvement office to pay his taxes. Here he met Doris. “I never had time to fool around, so I married her in June,” he said. They had seven children, and enjoyed 60 years together before she passed away.

img_3019

Now, deep in retirement he remains active. In 1989 he began driving for the Citizens Patrol. In recent years he has been driving people to medical appointments, to buy groceries, etc. He looks after the 50-50 draws at OAP functions. “After you’re 90,” he said, “they give you a free membership.”

Today John Merriman’s strong hands continue to find things to do, and he does them mightily.

Fulfillment From Service To Community

Art at anti-SE2 rally
Art at anti-SE2 rally

 With children back in classrooms and the benign sunny days of summer largely a fond memory, autumn is a good time to make a decision that will reward us with deep satisfaction and fulfillment. Experience has demonstrated to Linda and myself, and to many others, that being active in our community can stir up a surprising sizzle of adventure. Of the approximately 80 individuals with whom I’ve had conversations for this space over the past 2 years, most have been, or still are ardent contributors to their community. Whether helping in a thrift store, driving seniors to appointments, or rallying to a larger issue, whatever their age, I have found them to be upbeat and vibrant.

Linda and I have learned that being active in our community brings useful insights, powerful memories and lasting friendships. While living in Abbotsford in the 1990’s, a U.S. corporation proposed to construct a highly polluting gas fired power plant, Sumas Energy 2 (SE2), just across the border from our community. Due to the prevailing air flow, most of the plant’s dirty emissions would migrate to our side, endangering the health of humans, animals and crops. Citizens were aghast.

SE2 applied to the National Energy Board (NEB) for permission to build a power line across Abbotsford to access the B.C. Hydro power grid. Our provincial government could have opposed this but in spite of many promises during the election campaign, it remained on the sidelines, mute and indifferent.

With hordes of SE2 and NEB attorneys ready to advise and direct the proceedings, Linda and I, like most in our community, decided this issue was well beyond our experience and capability.

The NEB invited citizens to participate in the hearings as intervenors but when the local newspaper published the list of those who had signed up, there were only 17. Linda said, “that’s not enough. We’ll have to get involved.” She meant I would have to sign up and she would support me.

Several letters to the local newspaper expressed the prevailing gloomy sentiment. “Don’t waste your time. The Yanks always win.”

Linda and I invited 8 friends to our home to discuss the issue. I asked city Councillor Patricia Ross and future mayor Mary Reeves to come and tell us what they knew. Several concerned individuals we didn’t know phoned and asked to attend. At a subsequent meeting a week later, we had 21 people, mostly strangers, in our livingroom, some sitting on the floor. Desperate to create some momentum, I said, “would anyone object to setting a goal of 10,000 letters from this community to the NEB?” I offered to write a form letter people could use.

The group enthusiastically endorsed the idea. We came to be known in the media as the SE2 Action Group. MLA John van Dongen supplied paper and the use of his photo copier. Several businesses made the letter available. Attendance at the meetings in our home swelled, with many people willingly sitting on the floor or standing. Our little group became a potent catalyst that gave people hope. Many citizens picked up copies of the letter and distributed them. The Berry Festival provided a booth, and there were line ups to sign the letter. This also happened at a huge community rally. The big city media took notice and showed up.

In the SE2 Action Group, close friendships were developing. We were coalescing into a tightly knit bunch, growing bolder in our strategies and tactics. For Linda and me it was fascinating to observe the community gaining hope and coming together. Defeatist letters to the editor ceased.

The NEB came to town and hundreds of citizens crowded into a large hall. So many had signed up as intervenors, the hearings required several days. We had reached our 10,000 letter goal but even so, NEB staffers cautioned us not to expect a favourable decision. To everyone’s amazement and SE2’s consternation, the Board ruled in our favour. Then the Federal Appeals Court also sided with us.

Countless citizens had worked tirelessly to accomplish what many had considered impossible. We were rewarded with feelings of deep satisfaction, fulfillment, and incredible exhilaration. Also with lasting friendships and an understanding that the impossible is possible.

Autumn is a great time to get out of the eddy of our own complacency. A time to begin reaping the rewards that come when we do something positive for our community.

Rhianfa Riel Of Crimson Tine Players

Rhianfa Riel
Rhianfa Riel

Rhianfa Riel had her home painted a deep purple, and the front door yellow. “I like to come home to bright colours every day after work,” she told Linda and me during a conversation in our home. Initially it seemed a tad bizarre but we would learn that her decorating preferences are not motivated solely by a fondness for radiant colours. They reflect an aspect of her life that most of us would attempt to keep secret.

Rhianfa and her husband Martin moved to Princeton in 2008 after working at a youth camp on Gambier Island for 8 years. In time they were hired by the Copper Mountain Mine. “That gave us the opportunity to have our own home,” she said smiling broadly. “It was something I had thought would never happen.” With 2 children (twins), a stable income and a comfortable home, their neighbours likely considered them a typical middle class family. The positive, upbeat aura about Rhianfa makes this an easy assumption. There was however, a troubling shadow constantly lingering over the family.

I was diagnosed with chronic depression in 2004,” Rhianfa said. “For years I felt victimized, frustrated, angry, and impotent to do anything about it. At times I was overcome by rage.”

Most of us know little about depression. It’s tempting to believe it’s a condition we can overcome by an act of the will and adopting a positive mindset. “It isn’t like that,” Rhianfa assured us. “Depression isn’t a choice. It isn’t just a bad day. It isn’t something you can talk yourself up from or out of. Mostly it’s a feeling of great sadness that clings to you and tries to pull you down into a dark hole.”

Listening to her, it became evident to me that depression has no compassion, no willingness to accept a truce, and no redeeming qualities. It crops up when it chooses and runs amuck in the mind. It can ravage a day, even a life.

For Rhianfa the healing of her life began with medication. Then she found a couple of knowledgeable, understanding counsellors. Also, several allies were already standing by her. “Martin believed in me. He listened and he told me he loved me. He is the reason I was able to deal with the rage. Also, my faith in God buoyed me up. It taught me I was loved unconditionally.”

Martin & Rhianfa Riel at their front door.
Martin & Rhianfa Riel at their front door.

Even now, depression comes to do battle with her psyche and emotions virtually every day. Fortunately she’s not apathetic or complacent.

Several years ago I joined the Crimson Tine Players,” she told us. “It’s an outlet for tension and creativity.”

They write the scripts and make the costumes and props. “We do 2 big performances each year. Also occasionally we present a murder mystery at the Vermillion Forks Restaurant. We write the scripts for that ourselves.”

Rhianfa Riel looking out the stage curtains. (photo supplied by Rhianfa Riel).
Rhianfa Riel looking out the stage curtains. (photo supplied by Rhianfa Riel).

Theatre has become a mainstay, a means of giving back. Every 8 weeks she takes 4 youths to watch a live production at the Kelowna Arts Studio. They pay their admission, she buys the gas.

This year we joined Theatre B.C. and entered the OZone Festival. We performed “Rabbit Hole”, a Pulitzer prize winning drama. It was serious and quite difficult, but we did well.”

She is president of Crimson Tine Players and sees it as an opportunity to challenge herself and help others develop confidence and social skills. “I’ve never been in the forefront of anything before. Now I’m meeting people from outside my comfort zone, from every philosophy and walk of life. Theatre is a great way to explore our potential. Anyone can learn to act.”

Rhianfa has practical counsel for individuals besieged by depression, discouragement, loneliness and other difficult conditions. It is, in fact, excellent advice for all of life. She said, “don’t fight it alone, and don’t give up. Eat well, sleep well, exercise, be with people, and chase sunshine. Practise kindness for no reason but kindness. Pray, or find some way to feed your soul. And, allow yourself to be loved.”

At the end she said, “I hold on to my family, to the love I have for them. I make that my reason to keep going. When it gets hard I thank God the hard days aren’t every day.”

A purple house and yellow front door probably aren’t essential for healing, but getting help and taking action are.