Thursday, December 31, 2009

For auld lang syne - Happy New Year!

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup!
and surely I’ll buy mine !
And we'll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.


We two have run about the slopes,
and picked the daisies fine;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.


We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.


And there’s a hand my trusty friend!
And give us a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.


Robert Burns (1759 – 1796)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Saint Joseph's Oratory - first visit

My mother died in November (see Saying goodbye to mother and Mother). I could not be present for the funeral in England so that day I went to Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal.
I had been meaning to go there for some time, and I am ashamed to say it took my mother’s death to get me there. I have made a point of visiting many great cathedrals on my trips to England but I know nothing of those in Montreal where I live.

So the day of my mother’s funeral found me climbing the many steps leading up to the Oratory on Montreal’s Mount Royal. The photos do not do credit to the dimensions involved. The building is huge and imposing in stature in itself quite apart from the fact that it sits on top of a mountain. The architecture of the façade is in the classic Greco-Roman style.

Climbing the steps, I feel small and fragile and humbled. At the top of the steps I turn to see the city stretched out before me, and beyond it an uninterrupted horizon of hazy hills. Yet still the Oratory towers above me. I enter.

Inside I am surprised to find escalators rising up to the next floors. Then another, and another. The escalators give the impression, not that one is rising up to heaven, but rather that one is surfacing from an underground world of base emotions into the real world of the spirit above.

Finally, I surface at the Basilica. With only images of old cathedrals in my mind, I am surprised to see the pure simple lines of this Basilica. I have little time to reflect more because I am immediately overwhelmed with sorrow and sit down in the first bench to cry.

Slowly my emotions work themselves out and I sit peacefully contemplating the altar and the cross. I say a prayer for my mother. A mother and her child walk down the aisle. The mother stops and kneels and makes the sign of the cross and continues on.
Eventually I get up and walk around the altar. On the wall behind is a mosaic. I read an inscription in French: ‘Joseph the Just, Holy Husband of the Virgin Mary, Guardian of the Son of God’.

On one side of the altar is a statue of Frère André, founder of the Oratory.

I linger a little, absorbing the peace that vibrates in this place. As I leave, I pass by a message engraved in one of the marble blocks that make up the walls of the Basilica. It reads:

‘Even in the heart of darkness Your hand grasps me, because for You the night illuminates as much as the day’.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Footprints in the snow

Feeling ‘in a high state of grease’ (as Stephen Maturin would put it) from too much eating and too little moving, I decided I better go for a walk tonight. Nothing like a walk ‘to set you up’ (as Jack Aubry would put it).
It was 10 degrees below zero, but Canadians consider that quite mild to go for a walk. Where was it I read that only at minus 60 is it considered ‘too cold to go to the mall’…? So wrapped up like an astronaut I set off on my usual circuit that takes me along by the baseball park. There was a beautiful thin blanket of snow on the ground, just enough to make everything pure and white but not thick enough to hinder walking. The ‘crunch, crunch’ of my steps lulled me into a state of meditation.
I thought of the recent holiday dinner where my new girlfriend met my son for the first time and my daughter for the second. After my daughter’s first meeting my girlfriend would say ‘she is so beautiful and charming, so different than you…ha, ha’ and comments along those lines. After my son’s meeting it was ‘he is so handsome’ to which I replied ‘yes, he’s my son’ to which she replied ‘no, no, he doesn’t resemble you… ha, ha’. After the third or fourth comment of this kind I went to dig out my first (and only) British passport, issued in 1979 when I was 22 years old, 1 year older than my son today. ‘I hope you are ready for this’ I said, as I passed her my passport containing, basically, a photo of my son. Perhaps a more intense look in the eyes, but for the rest, copy and paste. ‘There!’ I exclaimed triumphantly. ‘Let us hear no more of this ‘Oh, your son is so handsome…’’
I came to the end of my path and turned around to walk back the way I had come. There on the path, unmistakably mine yet curiously alien, my footprints in the snow.

Photo by MsJimmy

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

We who merely happen to be walking around

Here is another interesting video for you. It’s an amazingly high quality film of the view from a streetcar travelling down Market Street in San Francisco in 1905. What I found so unusual in this film is that there is nothing… unusual. It must be that we are so used to seeing bad quality films of this period that we begin to think that all people walked like Charlie Chaplin or something, or that they were in some way quaint or inferior to us. In this film we see clearly that the people are like us. The policeman gives us his universal policeman stare, people gingerly cross the street avoiding the tracks as we would do, the fellow on the bicycle rides like anyone you would see today, the boy running could be the neighbour’s son.

From there it is easy to see that two hundred years ago or even a thousand years ago, apart from the props, people were basically the same. Just because we live in an era that is technologically, politically and socially more ‘advanced’ (so to speak), it does not necessarily mean we are better or even different than people who came before us. To me, the film illustrates clearly our alikeness, our solidarity with our ancestors. We, like they, are merely living in the ‘now’ of the present moment. We go about our business, thinking - as they probably did - that we are in some way more privileged, more intelligent, more everything than those who came before. But this is not true. I am reminded of a quote from G.K. Chesterton about the importance of tradition:

Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around.

Monday, December 7, 2009

'Thought moments' by Michael Simon Toon

I came across the following video a few months ago. An interviewer asks people in the street some simple questions about life, and some perhaps more difficult. The interviewees are suddenly called upon to reflect on whom they love most for example, something they may not have done before. We then observe them as they think and we can almost hear the wheels turning in their heads. It is a strangely moving experience for us too, as we watch them discover and share with us their life beliefs in a matter of seconds.

Watching this video, I understand that we are all bound together more by our similarities than we are separated by our differences. People are the same wherever you go. We all want to be happy, we all want to love and be loved. Only the details change. It is heartening to see what similar, common loves and hopes and virtues are to be found in everyone around us, people like you and me, passing by in the street.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Ship's log - December 2009

You may have noticed I tried another header image for a while. But we are back to Andrew Beierle’s beautiful photo and my original motto. There is just too much power in this image and in this metaphor of harnessing your inner strength. Looking at the man we see he is strong in himself but there is a greater power available to him. He must use all his strength and ingenuity to master it but we see that he can do it. And then, on such a ‘horse’, how he will fly! I hope some of my posts live up to this promise for you.

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)
Kiyomizudera Temple has a large veranda looking out over Kyoto and beyond