Freedom of Expression

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“You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs
that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.”*

How does a democracy – Canada – simultaneously guard it’s citizens against hate speech and protect their right to freedom of expression, particularly when one person’s hate speech is another’s legitimate expression of opinion?

Last Saturday evening Mr. Donald S. Cherry effectively brought this issue to the forefront of Canadian colloquy.

In my circle of friends, this conversation began at the time of the English Language Debate prior to the Federal Election, sparked by the horrific comments made by and opinions held by Mr. Maxime Bernier.  The debate never really got off the ground at the time, though, because we were all so focussed on the battle between Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Scheer.  

Both Mr. Cherry and Mr. Bernier have had their fifteen minutes of fame and I’ve no wish to extend it for them.  I am, however, intrigued by and worried about this very abstruse issue.  

Last week I wrote about the emboldened and about the two political leaders whose incendiary rhetoric brought about this galvanization.  Hate has become a mainstream message and weapon.  Hateful discourse – sometimes cleverly disguised, sometimes overt – is now a recognized and well-utilized weapon in political arsenals, never mind that it terrifies, objectifies, shames, embarrasses and stigmatizes visible minorities, members of some religions, indigenous peoples, the diaspora and women.  Indeed all those the emboldened call “others”.

Qui Ta et consentire videtur, ubi loqui debuit ac potuit.

One who is silent, when one ought to have spoken and was able to, is taken to agree. [Latin proverb.]

Regardless of the laws on our books, Canadians must adopt a zero-tolerance approach to expressions of hate by speaking out against such avarice.  If we do not, our silence will be seen as indifference at best or tacit approval at worst.  That’s how the marginalized and vulnerable become victims.

This week, hearing the hatred for “others” expressed so freely on national television, I realized that we have arrived at yet another fork in the road. Even though Mr. Cherry’s comments may not have met the legal standard for prosecution as hate speech, they did clearly show contempt for a specific demographic.  Any public expression that ridicules, or evokes intolerance or xenophobia must be denounced (in this case by the network – and it was) but in a much broader sense, condemned by everyone – particularly those fortunate enough to have a voice or a platform that is widely viewed and shared.  

“A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction,
and in either case he is justly accountable to them for the injury.”**

In a subsequent CTV News interview, I heard the word intend quite often, but is that even relevant?  Not in my opinion.  We all, but most especially those in the public eye – celebrities, politicians, reporters, athletes, commentators, analysts et al – absolutely need to be smarter, more aware, more considerate, more thoughtful – kinder – than that.  No more excuses.  We all know and understand the power of words to be hurtful, divisive, spiteful and disrespectful.  No more excuses.  We do know how our words will be heard and understood by others.  No. More. Excuses.

Of the utmost importance:  Tackling hate speech does not, must never infringe or limit in any way our freedom of speech.  Balance and counterbalance.  Freedom of expression is the lynchpin for nearly every other form of freedom.  Despite its relevance and value, our right to freedom of expression is constantly tested and, despite its Charter protections (2B), needs our unwavering vigilance.

Freedom of expression is fundamental to the gathering of sufficient knowledge to form opinion, and to the search for truth. J. S. Mill contended that informed, considered judgment is possible only when all facts and ideas, from any/every source, have been scrutinized and that one’s own theories must then be adjudicated against opposing views.  More elegantly expressed in his own words:

“He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion… Nor is it enough that he should hear the opinions of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them…he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.”**

The takeaway is that all points of view must be heard, considered and represented in the global forum.  Simply because something is distasteful or insulting does not necessarily make it untrue or invalid.  

One of the greatest privileges and obligations of our freedom of expression is being able to offer truth to power.  The mainstream media, the fifth estate, indeed every Canadian has the authority and responsibility to scrutinize all levels of government, to be a watchdog of sorts.  An integral component of any democracy is participation – overseeing and calling into question the legal, moral, financial, and effectual function of our elected officials.  To constantly evaluate our government’s competence. To do so there must be an unfettered and well-informed exchange of information, opinion and ideas.  Freedom of expression.

On a personal level, freedom of speech is the bedrock of human development, interaction and satisfaction.  The right to form one’s opinion, to share those opinions freely and to subsequently enjoy the evaluation, confirmation or rebuttal of others is how we grow and mature in thought and belief.  It accords value and dignity to each and every Canadian.  It is how we strive for and attain our full potential and for that reason alone our freedom of expression merits our most robust defence.

Another Gordian Knot.  Freedom of speech versus hate speech.  Where do we draw the line?  What is the ultimate or defining test?  If only agreeable, safe, non-controversial ideas needed protecting, The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms would be obsolete.

This week Mr. Cherry has sparked a vigorous discussion on the topic of free speech, which is a a good thing in my book.

‘Til next time, y’all…

*Aaron Sorkin, from “The American President” – a line spoken by President Andrew Shepherd, played by Michael Douglas.

I freely admit to being something of an Aaron Sorkin geek.  “The West Wing” is in my top five favourite television shows and “The American President” is in my top five favourite movies.  A lot of my friends love to hate on me for this unabashed love for  shows about the American presidency.  Still…  It’s the writing.  Mr. Sorkin is a beautiful wordsmith.

**John Stuart Mill 

Mr Mill was a British political economist and philosopher.  Both quotes are from his tome On Liberty which I struggled with (terribly) whilst at uni.  

emboldened

#MyBlogSchool #Module8

Conviviality

You might as well answer the door, my child, the truth is furiously knocking.****

Truth:  Many civil rights are being threatened.
Truth:  Women’s rights are being threatened.
Truth:  Reproductive rights are being threatened.

  The truth is furiously knocking!

Abortion in Canada is legal at all stages of pregnancy, a right which is specifically protected by the Canada Health Act.  True that in some rural and remote areas, access might be limited due to geography and scarcity of providers, but here in Canada there are no – zero – conditions or stipulations governing abortion. NONE!  And yet the right to an abortion has never felt more in peril, more at risk, more dire a concern to me than now, in 2019.  

In the words of the glorious Elizabeth May, we must never allow a single inch of retreat from the hard-earned rights of women in this country — not one inch. 

I am acutely aware of how easy it is to disappoint people – my family, my friends and my readers – in writing an essay like this one, but the truth is, indeed, furiously knocking.

During my time at UTSC I attended the presentations of as many guest lecturers as possible – feminist activists and writers – hoping that I would become an enlightened feminist.  Some of the most memorable of those speakers were Professors Conway and Davis and Margaret Atwood (author) and Florence Bird (journalist) – I still have all those lecture notes.  I learned ever so much from these women, I am indeed a feminist but enlightenment, I’m afraid, remains elusive to this day.

A common theme of these speeches, and the clearest warning issued by these wise women was that the battle for women’s rights is not, likely never will be, over.  That was forty plus years ago.  Surely in those four decades things have changed.  Haven’t they? The thoughtful answer is that they have and yet they have not.

Young women today are dispassionate about their reproductive rights, are not concerned that their right to an abortion is at risk, believing that it is enshrined, safe, untouchable.  Their guard is down and that is just the opening needed by those who seek to eliminate this legal right.   

Despite our Health Act protections, emboldened social conservatives, emboldened members of the religious right, and emboldened pro-life lobbyists are exerting enormous pressure on the Conservative Party of Canada to introduce (or enact – when elected) anti-abortion legislation, or at least to amend the current code.  This is a party which, ‘though merely in the role of the official opposition, won the majority of the popular vote, even without much support in the vote-rich provinces of Ontario and Quebec.  The leader of the Conservative Party of Canada declined to take a political stand for his strong and unwavering (even since the election) views on abortion (and same-sex marriage) which oversight, according to Peter MacKay, hung like a stinking albatross, around his neck.  Should this minority government collapse, and should Mr. Scheer strengthen his stand, who knows how far the strong anti-abortion lobby may carry him in the next election.

Mr. Scheer wants Canadians to believe that access to abortion would remain unchanged under his leadership.  It wouldn’t!   The pro-life lobby, which helped him win the party’s leadership and funded much of his 2019 campaign expenses are already stumping for socially conservative candidates (collaborators) ahead of the next election.

Opposing women’s right to control our own bodies
is always the first step in every authoritarian regime.

[Gloria Steinem]

I write this as a cautionary tale.  The once relatively quiet undercurrent of anti-abortionists is now emboldened, and has become a very loud and active vortex.  They are a society that not only strives to resist change but, in this case, one that is dedicated to reversing the change that has already taken place (legalized, unrestricted abortion).

All too clearly I can remember the abortion culture prior to the SCC’s 1988 decision.  When I was at university, if a woman needed or wanted an abortion, the service cost a princely (in those days) thousand dollars.  Cash only.  In a plain, sealed envelope.  The woman was driven to a motel on Kingston Road where she was met by the sketchiest of men, handed over her envelope, was blindfolded to protect the identity of the ‘doctor’ performing the abortion and led into the motel room.  There, the bloody deed was done – without anesthetic – and without any followup whatsoever.  And there were always complications.  I promise you.  Horrible, miserable, painful and sometimes lasting complications.  I know this because I was the driver.  On more than one occasion. What now is a basic right, with guaranteed dignity from the medical profession, was once an unnecessarily shameful and traumatic event.  

Besides the travesties that occurred on Highway 2, I know of a woman who went all the way to Mexico for an abortion which yielded painful and lasting side effects, and a woman who, with no hope of raising the $1K, performed her own abortion with that nastiest of utensils, the coat hanger.  That particular abortion placed this woman in hospital for over a month with bleeding, infection and mental complications galore.  She never returned to class.

The point I am trying to make is that please, please do not assume that the powerful religious and social conservative values and militancy that destroyed the lives of so many of my uni friends have disappeared from Canadian society.  These lobbyists have regrouped, reorganized and, now very well-funded, are on the rise and the attack once more – stronger than ever.

This renewed energy, this new emboldenment, traces back to the beginning of the Bully Pulpit Stateside, 9th November 2016 and a President who tweets and talks without filters or care for anyone but himself.  His rhetoric rouses, incites and inflames the most marginalized of American citizens. 

The invidious ackamarackus* spewed by this demagogue is carefully crafted to arouse fear, hatred, greed, protectionism, misogyny and racism.  And it was – is – effective; so much so that his coterie has become impavid.**  Emboldened.

Fast-forward to 7th June 2018 when Mr. Trump’s Mini Me was elected here in Ontario.  This is an antagonistic leader who gained support, “my friends”, by appealing to the passions of the lowest common denominators.  Not to Conservatives, nor to conservatives, but to the disenfranchised and lost souls on the political spectrum.  Now they too are the Emboldened.

Si vis pacem, para bellum…

If you want peace, prepare for war.  Or, in this case, if you do not want the Canadian abortion law amended in any way whatsoever, if you do not want to be defeated on the political battlefield, prepare for war.  ‘Though Mr. Ford’s Kakistocracy*** cannot overturn federal law, he can (and will) impose financial cuts to the Ministry of Health which could diminish (if not actually prohibit) access to abortion here in Ontario.    

We women have been told in perpetuity that opposition to our ideas and ideals ‘is not personal’.  When we’re angry we’re told ‘don’t take it personally’.  It is a favoured refrain.  

The attack on abortion law, on our right to reproductive freedom, is nothing but personal.  Please, please pay attention to the rhetoric and the true intention behind it and then take it very personally!

The issue at stake is not if you support the Canadian abortion law (and I am not, I promise you, trying to change your opinion or your values).  The issue is women’s rights, pure and simple.  Any campaign to reverse abortion rights is an attack on you — regardless of your personal beliefs.

Si vis pacem, para bellum…

The Emboldened are just that so this will be a messy conflict.  The fight will be intricate.  Opinions on abortion are as diverse as you can possibly imagine.

There are Conservatives who support the law and Liberals who do not.  There are Roman Catholics who support the law and people of no faith whatsoever who do not.  In your own circles there will be relatives and friends who support the law and just as many who are vehemently opposed.  Embrace this dichotomy.

This war will be entirely personal but wage it – always respectfully – with all your might.   It will be complicated, confusing, tiring, demanding and oh-so-difficult, but celebrate these complexities.  The truth is furiously knocking so on behalf of all Canadian women, para bellum. 

There are Canadians with philosophical, moral, religious, racial, misogynistic and personal reasons to oppose abortion.  My respect for those holding such opinions remains intact and unqualified.  Abortion is not an easy issue.  Anyone who has been involved in an abortion – even on the periphery – is keenly aware of the pain it brings to every party.   They are touched, altered even, physically, emotionally, spiritually, morally and personally.  And that is the key – personally.  Those are personal choices, not legal, not governmental.  Absolutely not adequate reasons to overturn the Canadian abortion law, thus limiting the rights of Canadian women.

There are days, it seems, that the breach between the  Canada we’re becoming and the one I want to live in is  beyond solution.  One woman alone cannot close that gap.  But here’s the thing about big, empty spaces:  There’s room for more; more feminine warriors, more diverse opinions, more conversation, more intention, more learning and more cooperation.  There’s plenty of room for more goodness.

And so, dear readers, I fear it is time to take it personally, to get involved, to make some trouble on behalf of Canadian women, their rights and their reproductive freedom.  Para bellum.

We will never allow a single inch of retreat
from the hard-earned rights of women in this country — not one inch. 

[Elizabeth May]

‘Till next time, y’all…

*Ackamarackus = nonsense.
**Impavid = fearless.
***Kakistocracy = rule/government by the worst.
****Lucile Clifton
Lucille Clifton was an American poet, writer, and educator from Buffalo, New York. From 1979 to 1985 she was Poet Laureate of Maryland. Clifton was a finalist twice for the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.

Joyspotting Issue #4

Also not #MyBlogSchool #Module8

Hiya!  Today, for the first time in what feels like forever, I had a day – alone – at Presqu’ile and it was magnificent!  #Joyspotting everywhere.

Have y’all registered on Ingrid’s The Aesthetics of Joy website?  Are you #Joyspotters and are you doing this with your kiddos and grands?  The Joyspotter’s Guide is an incredible tool for exploring – whether, like me, you’re doing it with a camera or whether you’re just outdoors for its pure pleasure.  It’s a brilliant concept, Ingrid is the sweetest, kindest person you’ll ever meet, and it is pure delight receiving her Joyletter in my inbox.  If you’re not there yet, what are you waiting for?

So, today, #Joyspotting:

#1 LOOK UP!

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The marsh at Presqu’ile, a splendid wasp/hornet/bee nest.

The spire (and wind vane), St. Andrew’s United Church, Vernonville, ON.
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian was dedicated in 1862 and remained so until 1925.
In 1925 it became part of the United Church of Canada, and is to this day.
Simplistically beautiful, non?

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A Heron in November!  This is Millicent, denizen of the Broomfield Marsh.
She’s in flight because I scared her before I’d seen her.

#2 LOOK DOWN

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Now, don’t you just love a mossy footpath?  Especially one that thrives in winter!

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Our oh-so-lovely Cobourg Creek.

#3 KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR COLOUR

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Lighthouse Lane, Presqu’ile PP.

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South shore, Presqu’ile PP.

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Community Centre Road, Baltimore, ON.

#4 FOLLOW THE CURVE

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Presqu’ile PP

#5 GO WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE

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Just imagine, a Great Blue in November!!!
The lagoon at Calf Pasture Point, Presqu’ile PP.

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The marsh, Presqu’ile PP.

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Hopeless dreams of becoming “empty nesters” – one adult kiddo is still hanging on!
The marsh, Presqu’ile PP.

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Cheeky chatterer, Vernonville, ON.

#6 SEEK OUT SYMMETRY

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#7 SEARCH FOR SIGNS OF ABUNDANCE

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#8 WATCH FOR WEIRDNESS

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#9 ZOOM IN

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#10 NOTICE THE INVISIBLE

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The sound of the waves is calming, cathartic and I love it!

#11 TAKE THE SCENIC ROUTE

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Beautiful Northumberland County!

#12 USE ALL YOUR SENSES

One of the nicest parts of my day was smelling all the smoke from wood fires.
I so badly miss having a wood burning fireplace in my home!

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The tree limbs looked as if they’d been dusted with confectioners’ sugar.
It reminded me in the sweetest way (sorry!) of some of Dad’s Christmas Cake creations.

Now get out there and do some #Joyspotting of your own!!!

‘Til next time, y’all…

 

 

Glad All Over*

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Glad all over – bluffs, Port of Newcastle.

I’m feelin’ glad all over,
Yes I’m-a glad all over.

I’m feelin’ glad all over!  This round of treatments is finally over, the infection is gone and I am about to have a break from the hospital – a long break if everything goes well! Ohmigosh, I’m deliriously happy!

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Glad all over – beach, Bond Head Village.

To everyone who is following me on my #MyBlogSchool journey – this is not #Module8.  That essay is in process and I will publish it later this week which is über-busy – Wednesday is Cam’s birthday.  Today’s post is just me being super-exuberant and wanting to share my joy with anyone who will listen!  

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Glad all over – beach at Bond Head Village, Port of Newcastle.

We enjoyed a splendid day out today, beginning with some errands in Oshawa.  From there we headed to the park/beach at Bond Head Village, Port of Newcastle where we ate our picnic lunch by the water.  This chap was dying for some of our sammie crusts. 

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Glad all over – Seagull.

After our picnic there was a bit of a ramble with camera in hand – natch!

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Glad all over – a warning. As if!  Of course I went out to the harbour entrance.  Port of Newcastle.

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Glad all over – see? No warning necessary. Port of Newcastle.

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Glad all over – harbour entrance marker. Port of Newcastle.

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Glad all over – St. Mary’s Cement plant, Bowmanville, from harbour entrance, Port of Newcastle.

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Glad all over – apple orchards are big (read: profitable) business. Port of Newcastle.

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Glad all over – yacht basin, Port of Newcastle.

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Glad all over – Rainbow Trout. Good eatin’ tonight! (Not us!) Port of Newcastle.

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I’m feelin’ glad all over, yes I’m-a glad all over. Port of Newcastle.

‘Til next time, y’all…

Gear used in this post:  Nikon D850 with AF-S Nikkor 24-120 F4G ED VR.

*Songwriters: Dave Clark / Mike Smith

One Moment In Time*

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Pebble beach, Presqu’ile Bay moment. #PresquilePP

Give me one moment in time, when I’m more than I thought I could be.

My life is a convergence of moments and many have demanded more of me than I thought I could be. In those instants I’ve been challenged to learn, to adapt, to understand, to cope, to mature in thought and to amplify the scope of my imagination.

Moment. Instant. Second. Jiffy. Heartbeat. The tiniest fragment of time, frozen by a camera, has the power to provoke, amuse, inspire, awe and soothe, helping us remember the tiniest details long after the day has ended and our recollections have faded.

I want one moment in time…

Moment

Autumn leaves moment. #PaxtonDrive #PresquilePP

Last weekend I was – unexpectedly – not needed at the hospital on Saturday, a day when the autumn weather could not possibly have been better; sunny, mild and with the gentlest of zephyrs stirring the leaves.  We hastily packed the very sketchiest of picnic lunches and set off for our #SundayFunday #ADayEarly (new hashtag?) at Presqu’ile. Oh, dear readers, there was an abundance of ethereal moments, some of which I’ve shared in this post.

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Most vibrant wildflower moment. #PresquilePP

Presqu’ile Provincial Park is a very special place for me; it has been the cornerstone for several recoveries and then for maintaining good physical, mental and spiritual health. It is personally appealing because of the spectrum of beautiful moments and memories it has proffered.

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Playful squirrel moment. #PresquilePP

Minute fractions of time, documented with my Nikon and cherished in my memory bank.  Within every exceptional moment, there is stillness, quiet and beauty; a serenity that is truly beautiful and full of promise. But what of them?  Why are they so important to me?

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Cutest wee bums moment. #PresquilePP

A virtual album of exquisite moments is an uplifting, curative, calming and comforting tonic, an essence that can reliably be seized as and when needed. A happy place.

Visual imagery is a proven, effective and chemical-free method of controlling pain.  Many of my Presqu’ile moments are the vignettes of my happy place.

Then in that one moment of time, I will be, I will be, I will be free.

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Dragonfly moment. #PresquilePP

When I am in the hospital and a 17 gauge needle is being rammed into my arm, or when the pain is not only on the attack but seems to be winning, I am usually able to overcome by going to my happy place where I am free.  This is why these moments are personally meaningful and essential.

Just like athletics, the efficacy of one’s happy place is developed and strengthened with practice.  Improvement happens by meeting the chosen scenes over and over again in one’s mind.  In my case, many images were auditioned and discarded because they weren’t sufficiently compelling to work as the ultimate distraction.

Now, though, when my pain mounts, when I need those moments, they’re always there, waiting in the margins of my consciousness, and I’m able to draw on those near-perfect instants for relief.

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Swan moment. #PresquilePP

As a wildlife photographer an attentive eye is essential, which forces me to be completely present in each moment – studying and capturing whatever appears.**  These precious memories are stored, catalogued and processed in a data base rather than printed and pressed between the pages of albums.  Moments glorified the only way I know – with my lens and my memory.

Funny thing, though; the better the experience, the less likely I am to capture it (am too busy watching, savouring) but when I do remember to shoot those moments I, most selfishly, almost never share them. Moments like those feel intimate, private.

These day’s we seem to be swimming in a sea of thousands of exquisite memories – our own and those shared by others – so which are art, which are commercially viable, and which are nonsensical snapshots.? Which moments achieve exalted status, are sacred to us – worthy of cleaving to our souls?  Which are the other kind – communal, meant to be shared?

Each day I live, I want to be a day to give the best of me.

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Presqu’ile Bay moment. #PresquilePP

The truth is that my joy arises from my experiences, from being alert and aware in each moment, absorbing everything it has to offer. That joy is always amplified by sharing the results of my good fortune, and knowing beyond the shadow of a doubt that it was a moment that was gifted to me but meant to be shared.

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Presqu’ile Bay moment. #PresquilePP

These moments might drift away, vanish forever were it not for a camera and a photographer and if anything is worthy of savouring, sharing, of exposing to the sunshine, it is an illustration of such an exquisite time – that very moment of that very day. A day to give the best of me – a lesson I will do well to remember!

My finest day is yet unknown.

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Mallard moment. #PresquilePP

Moments are my specialty. I capture thousands of them every year – with my camera and with my memory. My reaction to each experience not only informs my present but significantly colours many elements of my future. They are as necessary to me as the air I breathe and the food I eat.

You’re a winner for a lifetime if you seize that one moment in time.

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He and she dragonfly moment. #PresquilePP

’Til next time, y’all…

**#MyBlogSchool – Module #7, five minute writing assignment:  Craft a single sentence.  This was mine.

*One Moment in Time.  Songwriters: Albert L. Hammond and John Bettis.  Recording artist:  Whitney Houston.  To listen to this beautiful song (and I hope you do), please click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c84ogrNEds0

Ms. Houston’s hit song – originally written and recorded as a hymn for the 1988 Summer Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea – could well be my personal anthem.  July 2018 was the thirtieth anniversary of its release (30th!!!!!!!!) yet it is every bit as lovely and as relevant today.  These are the lyrics:

One Moment In Time

Each day I live
I want to be
A day to give
The best of me.
I’m only one
But not alone
My finest day
Is yet unknown.

I broke my heart
Fought every gain.
To taste the sweet
I face the pain.
I rise and fall
Yet through it all
This much remains:

I want one moment in time,
When I’m more than I thought I could be,
When all of my dreams are a heartbeat away
And the answers are all up to me.
Give me one moment in time,
When I’m racing with destiny
Then in that one moment of time
I will feel, I will feel eternity.

I’ve lived to be
The very best.
I want it all,
No time for less.
I’ve laid the plans
Now lay the chance
Here in my hands.

Give me one moment in time
When I’m more than I thought I could be,
When all of my dreams are a heartbeat away
And the answers are all up to me.
Give me one moment in time
When I’m racing with destiny.
Then in that one moment of time
I will feel, I will feel eternity.

You’re a winner for a lifetime
If you seize that one moment in time,
Make it shine.

Give me one moment in time
When I’m more than I thought I could be,
When all of my dreams are a heartbeat away
And the answers are all up to me.
Give me one moment in time
When I’m racing with destiny
Then in that one moment of time
I will be, I will be, I will be free.
I will be, I will be free.

 

Felix Culpa

Or how I broke Christmas…

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A Good Cry. Do you ever feel so overwhelmed and worn out that you cannot stop the tears from falling? That’s exactly how I felt during the autumn of 1997. That was the year I irreparably broke with our traditional Christmas celebration and fractured my relationships with my cousins.

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A little family history before I begin…

My mum was the eldest of three children, all girls.  The youngest was born just before the outbreak of WWII and she was evacuated her to her uncle’s home in Toronto.  My mum and her other sister were both taken out of school to work in the Fairey Aviation plant.  By the end of the war my Nana was a widow, her home (and place of business) flattened by a bomb and her youngest child stubbornly refused to return to the UK.  With no other options, Nana packed the few possessions they’d managed to save and, with her two eldest daughters, immigrated to Canada.  From then onwards, every Christmas the three sisters and their families gathered to spend the day and eat dinner together.  Until the Christmas of 1997.

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Having, apparently, given the matter thoughtful consideration throughout the year, one cousin announced (via e-mail, no less) that, with two small kiddos of her own, she’d much rather stay home for Christmas, host her own celebration, smell their turkey roasting all day long, and make their own, new, special memories. A few days later, she and my aunt appeared at our door to tell us that of course we’d be included and would we please join them.

We being Mum, Cam and I – at just three, the smallest of the family contingents.

Eventually a phone call came from the other branch of the family issuing the same invitation because, of course (???), theirs was the original gathering. And right there was the rub – where do we go? How do we decide? Regardless, we’d be the three outsiders in the room.  Regardless, we’d be offending the other family.  Some choice!

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As painful as it may be,
a significant emotional event can be the catalyst for choosing a direction
that serves us – and those around us – more effectively.*
[Louisa May Alcott]

Behind the scenes, we’d been experiencing some Christmas angst ourselves. Cam’s mum did not like my huge family’s celebration; it was a noisy (carols are sung at the table every year), active, happy rumpus of a day and not at all to her liking. And she would be alone and in Ontario that year. My mum was unhappy that many of the traditions had been abandoned (especially the saying of grace), and that the cousins’ adult kiddos were swanning in and out all day, often not staying to eat and with no opportunity to visit and catch up.  Mum also felt that the day’s true meaning seemed to have been lost to us all. I’m not entirely sure (he’d be scared to voice this thought aloud – he he he) but I think Cam never liked our Christmas gathering overmuch. As for me, I loved, LOVED our Christmases but I felt torn between the two families of cousins who were both very dear to me.

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One day late in September 1997, on an especially warm afternoon, Mum and I were noodle-floating in our pool when she suddenly said, if you could do anything at all for Christmas, what would it be? I answered without hesitation, run away. The glimmer of a plan germinated there and then…

After conferring with Cam’s mum, the three of us presented Cam with our fait accompli – we were all going to Florida for two weeks – over Christmas and New Year. Instantly I felt a huge weight lifted from my shoulders. As did Mum. As did Cam’s mum.  As did Cam (I think).

First, though, it was my duty to tell the cousins – face to face – that we would not be joining them. Either of them. And that’s how I broke, not only Christmas but also, as it turned out, the close, loving relationships I’d enjoyed with my cousins all my life.

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Felix culpaout of something bad, something good.  Tickets were purchased, a car rented, a condo chosen and excitement ran high.  Our Florida Christmas celebrations were – unexpectedly, if I’m completely honest – some of the happiest of my life.  By necessity, they were pared down to the essentials, so our focus was on each other which was sweet and loving and special and perfect.  Upon arrival our first order of business that first year was to find a restaurant open for dinner on Christmas day, a church for Christmas Eve services and, at the grocery shop, a poinsettia, some candles and some small decorations for our table at the condo.

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Celebrating the birth of baby Jesus in 1997, we were all filled with light, peace, hope and love.  That two-week vacation was joyful, we were all relaxed, happy and content.  We knew that Christmas in Florida would be a practice we’d continue.  Felix culpa.

‘Til next time, y’all…

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*This quote felt just right with this post because Ms. Alcott was Mum’s favourite author and this drastic Christmas transformation was Mum’s brain child!