Sharing with you things that are on my mind...Maybe yours too. Come back to Wrights Lane for a visit anytime!

27 May, 2015

FAITH IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE RISKS

Abraham believed and trusted God when he risked it all and took his family to a strange land. He did not question the Almighty, he simply packed up his family and went – even without knowing where he was going. Now that is a risk! Some call it blind faith and perhaps that is why Paul reminds us that if we saw where we were going we would not go there (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Thinking of God may give people the courage to seek out and take risks, a new study suggests.  The study was particularly relevant to me because I had engaged in a controversial exchange on this very subject on a Facebook church group site in recent days.

I have never liked the word "risk".  To me there is just something negative about it.

It is my contention that a more biblical way of talking about risk is using the phrase "to step out in faith." It is something that can really change lives. When you take a risk for the Lord, it means you are going out of your way to do something for Him and you have positive thoughts about the outcome. When you take normal risks that involve something other than religious faith, there is at least a 50/50 chance of negative results and you keep your fingers crossed. It is important to know the difference between positive and negative risks. Criminals, after all, are perhaps the most notorious risk-takers...They risk the consequences of breaking the law for the sole purpose of personal gain at the expense of others.

The aforementioned study findings, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, goes against previous research that indicated religious people are less likely to engage in risky behaviour. To me, there is nothing new or surprising in that disclosure.

Lead researcher Daniella Kupor of Stanford University Graduate School of Business, noticed that the risks examined in the previous studies tended to focus on negative behaviour. She and her colleagues reasoned that thinking about God may have a different effect when the risks are morally neutral, such as skydiving, because they believe God will protect them from harm.

To investigate, they issued online surveys to nearly 900 people and found that those who were reminded of God – either by working on word scrambles that included God-related words or by reading a paragraph about God – were more willing to take risks than participants who weren't prompted to think about religion.

In one study participants were asked to choose which version of the survey they wanted to complete. One version would give them a small bonus payment, but involved looking at an 'extremely bright colour' that they were told could potentially damage their eyes, while the other version involved looking at a harmless darker colour.

The researchers found that participants who had been reminded of God before making their choice were more likely to opt for the dangerous version of the experiment (96 per cent) than those who hadn't been reminded of God (84 per cent). 

In a different study, the researchers posted variations of three advertisements online and recorded the click-through rates for each. Some adverts promoted an immoral risk, such as 'learn how to bribe,' others promoted a non-moral risk, such as 'find skydiving near you' and another set promoted no risk, such as 'find amazing video games'. In some cases, the adverts included a mention of God – for example, 'God knows what you're missing! Find skydiving near you.'

The research revealed that when the ads included a religious reference, people clicked on the non-moral risk of skydiving, more often. However, they clicked on the bribing – moral risk – less often.

"We were surprised to find that even a simple colloquial expression – 'God knows what you're missing' – influences whether people click on a real online ad that is promoting a risky behaviour," Ms Kupor said.

The study also indicated that people who were reminded of God perceived less danger in various risky behaviours than participants who were not reminded of God, suggesting that Christians have the courage of their convictions and do not consider a risk to be a risk when acting on God-inspired impulses of faith.

I publish the foregoing knowing full well that there will be those who say "so what?" and others who will not appreciate this risk-taking disclosure nor my reason for engaging it, choosing instead to believe that a risk is a risk no matter how you look at it, who takes it -- or how it is taken.

To my mind, however, it is better to have "faith" when taking a positive risk.  I'm no gambler, but it helps put the odds in your favor!

25 May, 2015

HERE'S TO A MORE FREQUENT "HALLELUJAH"!

I listened the other night to the magnificent Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra perform the "Hallelujah Chorus" composed by George Frideric Handel.  It is absolutely my all-time favorite rendition.

It reminded me of something written by my alter ego "Old Humphrey" some 200 years ago.  I have not consulted the old guy recently and was long overdue for a visit.  Here is what Old Humphrey had to say about the use of the word "Hallelujah":

"...Daisies and buttercups are to be found in the every day occurrences of life, as fair to look upon as the flowers of the field.  I love to bend down and pick a few.

"There is a text of Holy Scripture which says, Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatever ye do, do all to the glory of God.  And a letter that I have but just received from a Christian correspondent in the country supplies me with an excellent practical illustration.  The whole epistle has in it but four short lines; the last two of these are as follows:  'I am going out to dinner.  Country delightful.  Crops abundant.  Hallelujah!'

"Now that is just what I like.  Most people know what Hallelujah means -- 'Praise ye the Lord;' and we can all thank God for great favors, but how few of us put a Hallelujah to the record of our common mercies.  It strikes me that it would be no bad method to find out the lawfulness of our pleasures and the spiritual state of our affections, if we were each to ask this question in the midst of every enjoyment: 'Can I put up a hearty Hallelujah at the end of it'?"

"Hallelujah!" for sure Humphrey.  I'll try not to be such a stranger.

Note:  Humphrey always spelled Hallelujah "Halleluiah"...I have taken liberties with the old English gentleman's text here.

21 May, 2015

COMING TO GRIPS WITH THE THINGS I AM NOT...AND THE PERSON I AM

I recently took a five-month sabbatical from writing of any kind and refrained from involvement in the social media scene.  It was a time of reflection, soul-searching and coming to grips with the person I had become – or had not become, depending on how you look at it.  A truly revealing and rather humbling exercise, to say the least.  It is a process that some of us engage in with more intensity than others.

It has been said that the transition to true adulthood occurs when you recognize that you won't get most of what you dreamed about in childhood. Childish dreams are always lofty -- every child imagines themselves climbing to the top of society's hierarchy, usually inspired by a particular hero. Almost none of them will make it. Some will go very far, but still fall short.
For the rest of us, peace comes from putting away these childhood fantasies and all the imagined future versions of ourselves that never came to be. We finally accept our place in the world, knowing that we tried our best and did what we could. That is when we truly become an adult.  In that context, I cannot help but think that there are some individuals who may never completely achieve adult status per se.  It has taken me most of my life to come to that conclusion.

I know people who have clung to youthful dreams and ambitions all their lives.  They live out their fantasia by embellishing certain experiences and accomplishments to the degree that they come to believe the embellishments.  They will go to their graves convinced that they are legends in their own minds…And God bless them for that!  Far be it from me to rain on any parades.
 
For me, I’m just the opposite, however…I have never tried to fool myself and have bought in to the theory that you can fool some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time.  An honest personal appraisal tells me that I have never fully realized the expectations that I had for myself as a young man and I am left having to rationalize the person that I am as I write this on the 20th of May, 2015.  The chore is to stop telling myself that I have under-achieved and fallen short.  To dwell on this any further would only serve to be unnecessary public self-debilitation and dear knows I have done enough of that when exposing innermost thoughts and feelings in past writings.

I am by no means a perfectionist, suffice to say I concede that there were times along the way when I could have applied myself more to the task at hand and done a better job. That is simply a live-and-learn admission.  I regret that in my 78th year, time has just about run out for me and I will never have a chance to do some things over again.  That has been the downside to the aforementioned period of self-examination.
 
Too little, too late, I understand that expectations are meant to be energizing, motivating and serve like a guiding light towards living a purposeful life – very much like a lighthouse is to a ship sailing in dark seas. As people mature from infancy to adulthood, they begin to understand the differences between appetite satiety, and the deeper emotional appreciation of fulfillment, after accomplishing a cherished goal.

I accept too, that goals are based on what is valuable at certain points in life and they vary according to personal priorities, relationships and professional challenges. People change from being self-centered as infants, to meeting needs and expectations from a wider perspective, so much so that family, friends, and work are all factored in as we mature. Far from being static, expectations are ever changing in value, and, should be viewed as being based on a life continuum.

Failing to come to terms with unmet needs or not being able to achieve a goal is the perfect set-up for frustration, anxiety and stress. Whether to raise the expectation bar or lower it a bit for the moment is a personal decision, but it is a choice. All people want to experience their efforts inching towards getting what they desire, the dream, and the expectation. What truly matters is the sense of fulfillment that we receive at the end of the day which reinforces the fact that efforts were not in vain. This also means staying grounded and focused as failures have a way of eroding self-confidence.

I have had to recognize that stress and anxiety are part of the process of attaining any goal and I am trying not to let accumulated pressure erode the sense of inner joy with at least having tried my hand at more than my share of life experiences and challenges.  I was going to itemize the things that I have tried with varying degrees of achievement over the years, but the list is far too exhaustive to include in this space

We all need to forgive ourselves for having some shortcomings. There is no need to beat yourself up or be needlessly embarrassed over a failure or some imagined ill-doing.

How many times have we heard these three defiant words, “deal with it” when people are annoyed at shortcomings, and endlessly remind us that we are not perfect, every chance they get?  This strain of constantly trying to measuring up to fit a certain mold, just to get the affection, triggers an uncomfortable feeling that does not go away. This feeling of not measuring up gnaws constantly until some people despise themselves just a little bit, and then, a little bit more. The craving for love, acceptance, belonging and approval is normal, and is ingrained in our psychological makeup, but the cravings may go on overdrive, if we cannot cope or accept or own humanity in a kind, mature, rational manner. Simply put, no one of is perfect!

Certainly not me…I have a record to prove it!  And I now accept that fact as I get on with what is left of the “mellowing out” stage of life.

Thanks for sticking with me dear readers…and for hearing me out.  Hopefully, you know some of whereof I speak.

15 May, 2015

CRIMINAL KILLER COUPLE, MERE KIDS

Bonnie and Clyde Killed: May 23, 1934

Bonnie and Clyde Killed: May 23, 1934
Posse that killed Bonnie and Clyde
Posse that killed Bonnie and Clyde
On May 23, 1934, the legendary criminals Bonnie and Clyde were shot and killed by police while driving a stolen car in Louisiana.

Both Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker grew up in the slums of Dallas, Texas, but while Clyde ended up on the wrong side of the law by his teen years, Bonnie seemed to stay out of trouble. The two met in 1930, when Clyde was 20 and Bonnie 19; Bonnie was already married but was separated from her husband. Clyde was sent to prison for robbery not long after their meeting, but the two reunited when he was released in 1932. Clyde initially appeared to try to straighten out his life but soon returned to small-time robberies, this time involving Bonnie in some of his criminal activities.
Bonnie and Clyde, along with various accomplices, began a crime spree that would last two years. They mostly robbed gas stations, restaurants, and stores, sometimes hitting small banks as well, and in 1934 they engineered a prison break. Whenever the police caught up with them, Clyde and his accomplices rarely hesitated to shoot, allegedly killing nine officers of the law—and 13 people total—while they were on the run.
Clyde with gun. Photo of Bonnie at right.Bonnie was often portrayed in newspapers as a “cigar-smoking gun moll,” after police raided a hideout and found photographs of her with a gun in her hand and a cigar in her mouth. (Bonnie vehemently denied she ever smoked cigars, only cigarettes, and there is little evidence that she ever murdered anyone.)
Their crime spree finally ended in May 1934 when Frank Hamer, a Texas Ranger, and his posse tracked down Clyde and Bonnie in Louisiana. The group set up an ambush, hiding along the side of a road. When they saw Bonnie and Clyde’s car, the posse let loose with a hail of more than 100 bullets, killing both of the car’s occupants.
Clyde’s and Bonnie’s gunshot-riddled bodies were taken back to Texas, and thousands of people came to see their corpses. In accordance with Bonnie’s mother’s wishes, the two were given separate funerals and Bonnie was buried apart from Clyde in a different cemetery. At the time of their deaths, Clyde was just 25 and Bonnie 23 -- remarkably just the age of two of my grandchildren.  Today they seemed much older than that.

A "BRUSH" WITH RUB-A535 THAT I WON'T SOON FORGET

Yesterday I wrote about the freedom of aging...Today I write about "the stupidity of aging."  Well, I guess it could apply to any age but it is nice to have an excuse.

It's one of those things that happen to other people, but never to you.  The odds are however, that given time, most things will.

This morning I was habitually hovering over the bathroom zinc and reaching for the tooth paste that I keep in a drawer.  I applied a liberal dollop of paste on my tooth brush and began dutifully scrubbing just as the dentist once told me.  But wait a minute!  Something was wrong -- not the usual "extra fresh" minty taste of my Aquafresh, rather it was a medicinal taste that rapidly took on a penetrating heat that I had never experience before...At least not in my mouth.

A quick, all-too-late check of the tube from which I had dispensed the paste(?), revealed the shocking truth.  It was the RUB-A535 "extra strength" liniment that I ill-advisably keep in the same drawer.  I  couldn't believe it.  After a slug of mouthwash and a proper application of tooth paste, the heat sensation in my mouth gradually began to subside.

My usual coffee this morning did not taste the same though.  I wonder why?

The upside of all this is that I have the freshest mouth in town today.  The RUB-A535 is now kept in another drawer.

14 May, 2015

12 1/2 CENTS TICKET TO RIDE...IN 1957

The other day I was going through an old jewelry box that I hadn't opened in years...Who uses cuff links, tie tacks and clips, collar pins, pocket watches, lapel pins, money clips and fountain pens in this day and age anyway?

Much to my surprise, in the bottom of the box I came across three lonely Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) tickets from 1957 when I was without a car and working in Toronto.  The tickets at the time set me back 12 1/2 cents each or four for 50 cents.  A single cash fare in those days was 15 cents.  Today, that same single cash fare for a bus, street car or the subway is $3.00 and you can buy three tokens for a money-saving $8.40.  Boy, how times have changed!

Of course, the current TTC fares may still be a bargain considering the price of gas and astronomical parking lot rates in the city.  It's all relevant, I guess.

It would be interesting though to see if I could still use those old 12 1/2 cents tickets for a $3 subway ride on my next trip to Toronto.

11 May, 2015

WE'VE GONE TRANS CANADA

Click "View online" at http://www.tidbitsmj.ca/ to see "Wright Words" columns now appearing weekly in a Western Canada publication, "the best little newspaper you ever read."

29 April, 2015

THE GREAT FREEDOM THAT COMES WITH AGING

I am publishing this for my "Senior" friends because it is so well written. I do not know the author. It was sent to me by another senior friend who thought I could relate...And I do!

Who's business is it anyway, if I choose to work on the computer until 4:00 a.m., or sleep until noon?  Without apology, I will day dream, sitting idly by myself on my front porch or in a quiet setting on the Lake Huron shoreline. I will marvel at God's handiwork in the nature surrounding me.  Who's to care if I take the better part of an hour to get dressed in the morning...I don't have deadlines to meet any more.  What's the difference if I don't get my hair cut and grow a beard...At my age I don't have to impress anyone.  And I'll have a cup of coffee (and people-watch) at Tim Hortons any time I damn well please.  So how do you like them apples? 

 I fully subscribe to the following anonymous words.

"I will listen to the wonderful music of the 1940s, 50s and 60s.  And if I, at the same time, wish to weep over a lost love or a sentimental moment, I will.

"I will walk the beach, in a swim suit that is stretched over a bulging body, and will dive into the waves, with abandon, if I choose to.  Despite the pitying glances from the jet set. They, too, will get old.

"I know I am sometimes forgetful. But there again, some of life is just as well forgotten. And, eventually, I remember the important things.

"Sure, over the years, my heart has been broken. How can your heart not break when you lose a loved one, or when a child suffers, or even when somebody's beloved pet gets hit by a car?  But broken hearts are what give us strength, and understanding, and compassion. A heart never broken, is pristine and sterile and will never know the joy of being imperfect.

"I am so blessed to have lived long enough to have my hair turning gray, and to have my youthful laughs be forever etched into deep grooves on my face. So many have never laughed, and so many have died before their hair could turn silver.

"As you get older, it is easier to be positive. You care less about what other people think. I don't question myself anymore.  I've even earned the right to be wrong.

"So, to answer your question, I like being old. It has set me free. I like the person I have become. I am not going to live forever.  But while I am still here, I will not waste time lamenting what could have been, or worrying about what will be.

"And I shall eat dessert every single day (if I feel like it)."

I'm with you all the way, my "senior" friend...And I'll gladly accept a senior  citizen's discount any time it is offered.

20 March, 2015

YOU CANNOT TELL A VEGETABLE IS UGLY AFTER IT'S COOKED


(W)right on…
Waste not, want not

It’s astonishing and rather disgusting that $31 billion in food is wasted annually in Canada – or 40% of the food we produce.
The alarming statistic speaks directly to the amount of food that’s left to rot or spoil in our refrigerators, the food left uneaten at kitchen and restaurant tables, and the truckloads of food never considered or offered for public consumption because that food is not considered to be attractive.

Forget about toddlers and other young children who are called picky eaters. It looks as though we’ve become a nation of picky eaters.


An ugly carrot?

The issue of food waste was again raised recently when Loblaws announced it wants to sell “ugly” produce in its Ontario and Quebec stores. The produce – apples, potatoes and other goods that appear to be imperfect (imperfect, only because they are judged by their appearance, not their quality of substance) – will be sold at discount as part of the food company’s new line of no-name brand produce.
Loblaws deserves credit for offering to the public food that in the past was difficult to sell. The discount – of up to 30%, according to reports – will give customers reason to pause and consider the value of the food they’re purchasing, even if that food doesn’t look like the fresh fruit and vegetables we’ve been conditioned to believe are attractive and therefore acceptable.

If the gambit pays off (and it likely will, especially if other grocery stores begin to offer the same), the idea of purchasing such goods could have an impact on Canada’s food efficiency. Billions of dollars in labour, fuel, electricity, water, seed and fertilizers are consumed annually to grow food in Canada. The fact our society has been conditioned to reject some of that harvest (or isn’t even given the opportunity to reject that harvest) because it’s misshapen or odd-looking or doesn’t meet our picky expectations, represents a monstrous economic and environmental loss.
Never mind the fact we already waste tonnes of food in our own kitchens, either through neglect or indifference. A study by the Value Chain Management Center found that vegetable waste in this country in 2009 was the equivalent of 80 kilograms for every Canadian.

But that waste occurred AFTER truckloads of so-called ugly but nutritious vegetables were rejected and not offered for sale. If we can begin to reconsider the value of food that’s thought to be ugly, perhaps we’ll take better care of all of the food we purchase and consume.
In January, engineers Without Borders covered a table at the University of Saskatchewan with food reclaimed from dumpsters to make its point that too much food is being trashed. The group says one-third of all food around the world is wasted.  "Food waste is a huge issue," said Co-president Angela Howell." It contributes to rising food prices around the world, it contributes to environmental costs, it can create a lot of social inequities."

While Howell says around half of food waste is generated in the home, a large percentage of waste is generated in grocery stores and restaurants. She says the system should be made more efficient to avoid wastage.
"Say you're buying carrots," Howell added. "You get these beautiful long carrots that are all the same length. All of the ugly carrots may get thrown away. "The group hopes the very visual display helped spread the word.  "It's a very easy thing to visualize, and we thought it would make the biggest impact" said group member Alyssa Kimber.

Chapters of Engineers Without Borders across the country are focusing on food issues this year, planning events on themes like food deserts, growing local food and inefficiency in the food growing and distribution system.
Something for all of us to think about! 

MOTHER NATURE'S HANDYWORK



The weather in the past week may have moderated but it is still a winter wonderland along the Lake Huron shoreline at Southampton.  It will take many weeks for the picturesque wave-like ice formations to melt away.

13 February, 2015

A SPECIAL DAY TO EXPRESS LOVE


In keeping with the February "love" theme, did you know that in the 19th century, sending paper Valentines through the mail got to be so popular that during some years, post offices had to hire more workers just to get all the cards sorted and delivered?  Here are a couple of rather historic newspaper articles from 1811 and 1846 that I find interesting.

The first is a 1846 clipping from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reporting that the Brooklyn, N.Y., postmaster had put on eight extra hands to deal with the deluge of Valentine's Day mail.  The second is a news report from London announcing that England's Two Penny Post Office had hired almost 100 sorters to handle the Valentine's mail in 1811.
 
I don't think that post offices experience the same kind of Valentine's crunch of "scissar(sic)-cut hearts and darts" in this day and age, but the heart-felt messages have not changed much over the years...and it is kind of a nice tradition that makes us feel good, regardless of age.  Everyone is somebody's special Valentine!
 
Here is a collection of some of the most famous quotes on the subject of "love, not just on Valentine's Day but every day:

Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.- Aristotle

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.- Lao Tzu

My bounty is as boundless as the sea, My love as deep; the more I give to thee, The more I have, for both are infinite.- William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.- Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Young love is a flame; very pretty, often very hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. The love of the older and disciplined heart is as coals, deep-burning, unquenchable.- Henry Ward Beecher

Age does not protect you from love. But love, to some extent, protects you from age.- Anais Nin

Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward in the same direction.- Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Love has no desire but to fulfill itself. But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires; To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night. To know the pain of too much tenderness. To be wounded by your own understanding of love; And to bleed willingly and joyfully.- Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.-Helen Keller

Love does not dominate; it cultivates.- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.- Zora Neale Hurston

Love is life. All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love. Everything is, everything exists, only because I love.- Leo Tolstoy

Love is like quicksilver in the hand. Leave the fingers open and it stays. Clutch it, and it darts away.- Dorothy Parker

I have learned not to worry about love; but to honor its coming with all my heart.- Alice Walker

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride; so I love you because I know no other way than this: where I does not exist nor you, so close that your hand on my chest is my hand, so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.- Pablo Neruda, “Love Sonnet XVII”

05 February, 2015

A LOVE STORY ON STICKY NOTES




It’s February, the month of looooove! In times like this it is easy to get distracted by STUFF — boxes of chocolates, jewelry, stuffed bears, and all that jazz. And though its always nice to give gifts to that special someone, it is even nicer to take a moment and remember the reasons why you love having them in your life.

So take a couple minutes and watch this awesome short film about a love story that was formed from sticky notes!

24 January, 2015

ANGELS FOR ALZHEIMER'S, A COMMENDABLE SCHOOL ACTIVITY


A good news story worth passing on
 
The entire school body at G. C. Huston Public School in Southampton learned about Alzheimer's on Friday (Jan.23rd) and what it could feel like for someone with the disease.

Organized by Alzheimer's 2015 Walk for Memories Coordinator, Jodi Eagleson, the students were asked to lay quietly as she asked them to image what it must be like to have some of the symptoms of Alzheimer's so that they might have a better understanding in the event a family member incurs the illness.  Chances are that one in three of the youngsters will experience Alzheimer's in their family.

The activity also served as a fundraiser by donation for the Alzheimer's Society and all monies raised locally stay in the community. Once the exercise was over, it was outside for everyone where all the students made their own "Snow Angels for Alzheimer's".

The 2015 final winter Walk for Memories will be held Saturday, January 31st in various venues throughout Grey and Bruce counties.
 

13 January, 2015

Free Speech, Reform, and the Paris Murders

How should we respond when people are murdered for insulting the religious sensibilities of radical jihadist Muslim terrorists? Should they stand on the side of free speech, or that of political corrected religious tolerance? The recent executions at the office of a satirical magazine in the center of Paris force us to navigate the tightrope between the two. While violence is never the answer to religious mockery, nor is the undercurrent of racism and religious prejudice which some have argued, lurks beneath the surface of religious satirical journalism in the West.

The bloody killings, which took place Wednesday, the 7th of January, were among the worst attacks on the public in modern French history. The attackers, who were radical, fundamentalist Islamic French brothers named Said and Cherif Kouachi, stormed the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine and opened fire, killing 12 people, including two police officers. According to witnesses, one of the gunmen shouted, “We have avenged the prophet. We killed Charlie Hebdo”. Yes, they avenged a 4th century cleric revolutionary who believed the world was flat and your heavenly reward was a harem of virgin little girls and boys (see QURAN 52:24: “And there will go round boy-servants of theirs, to serve them as if they were preserved pearls”).

On Friday, police cornered the suspects in a printing warehouse near Paris. They fled the warehouse firing at police, who granted their wish to meet their maker.



It was the end of a bloody and horrific massacre, but the beginning of an important dialogue about the state of freedom of speech and other democratic principles in a world increasingly besieged by religious terrorism. Almost immediately, demonstrators held vigils in cities round the world, holding signs that read “Je Suis Charlie” (“I am Charlie”), in solidarity with the victims of the Charlie Hebdo shooting. And almost just as soon, a global conversation began about the threat of religious extremism to free speech and freedom of the press. But on the sidelines some suggested that, while the shooting was inexcusable, it was provoked by racist mockery on the part of the cartoonists.

Free-Speech Martyrs, or Racist Provocateurs?

Among those defending the satirical cartoons produce by Charlie Hebdo is Iranian-French graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi, the author of “Persepolis”. Although she disagrees with some of the magazine’s messages, she believes their mockery of Islam or other religions deserves to be defended because “[p]eople have the right to have a different point of view, and to provoke,” and she warns that “[i]f we allow acts like [the Charlie Hebdo shooting] to create a climate of fear, we will have lost our freedom.” For people like Satrapi, those who died at the Charles Hebdo offices sacrificed their lives for free speech.

But others are more careful about what kind of speech, art, and journalistic expression deserves to be defended, pointing out that younger generations have a more sophisticated understanding of the position of privilege from which such cartoonists launch their attacks. As 24-year-old Michigan cartoonist Jacob Canfield points out, Charlie Hebdo’s “white editorial staff” members were not simply free-speech martyrs but frequent, deliberate peddlers of “a certain, virulently racist brand of French xenophobia.” Acknowledging the indefensibility of violent attacks on dissenters, he says that “[i]n the face of a really horrible attack on free speech, it’s important that we don’t blindly disseminate super-racist material”. One questions if there is any issue here about race, or rather appropriate questioning of religious ideology.

Personally, I think that we should defend the intellectual and artistic integrity of those who share different, sometimes highly contentious opinions. While feeling insulted is never, ever an excuse to retaliate with bloodshed, it is a good idea to re-examine the method by which we critique others’ belief systems. Rather than with the gun, we should respond with the pen; or, as Anonymous has vowed to attack crazed Islamic terrorist websites and social media accounts in revenge for the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is on the right path. He and Pope Francis are calling for change in the doctrines and practices of Catholicism and Islam, respectively. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi argues that it is time for a revolution in interpretations of the faiths over the centuries. Notwithstanding, “Who am I to judge?” and “all people and animals are creations of God’s work,” says the popular Pope Francis.

Should we not take it one step further and pressure all religions to update their archaic, unprovable doctrines? Spirituality and faith are great for mankind, but statements to corral the masses into blind obedience and violence on the behalf of any deity needs to be removed from teachings. Sadly, I am not holding my breath!

There are those in our society that question why any so-called religion is exempt from bigotry and discrimination, allowed to sell and receive property and operate without paying taxes for programs that are antithetical to social reform and equality. In essence, why can religion benefit from a modern society while hindering its progress and evolution in the 21st century of mankind?

As Canadian police are on the alert, as never before, I am uneasy about the increasing threat of acts of terrorism by radical religious factions in our beautiful country.  We may never be the same again as we collectively look over our shoulders in the 21st Century.

Sources:  BBC News, The Huffington Post, The New York Times

01 January, 2015

WE CAN ALL BE BETTER GOOD NEIGHBOURS

I am sure that most of my readers have heard of Fred Rogers.  Certainly, two generations of my family grew up with him.

The unassuming Fred was, of course, better known as "Mr. Rogers" and he had a ground-breaking television show for children called "Mr. Rogers' Neighbourhood".

Every show began the same way with the neatly attired Mr. Rogers entering his home, taking off his jacket and shoes and putting on a trademark red zippered sweater that has since been donated to the Smithsonian Institute.  As he slipped into comfortable tennis shoes he would sing his theme song "Won't You Be My Neighbour."  The song started out like this...
Fred Rogers and his favorite hand puppet.

"It's a beautiful day in the neighbourhood
A beautiful day for a neighbor
Would you be min,
Could you be mine?"
 
And it ended...

"Won't you be my neighbor
Won't you please, won't you please
Please be my neighbor."

When Fred Rogers died about 12 years ago, he had millions of "neighbours" all over the world, yet he never thought of himself as a TV star.  In his typical soft-spoken manner he insisted that he always thought of himself as "a neighbor who just came in for a visit."  He knew what it meant to be a good neighbour and he wanted to demonstrate that for his young audiences.

It was not commonly known that Fred was a music major and that he graduated from seminary as a young man.  He was in fact an ordained Presbyterian minister who found his true calling in shaping the minds of children through his creative and unique television neighbourhood.

In my spiritually-motivated days as a lay minister with the unmitigated gall to preach to small community and rural church congregations, I often used Fred Rogers to introduce the Story of the Good Samaritan who stopped at a roadside to rescue a man who had been badly beaten by robbers. The injured man had previously been ignored by a Priest and a Levite who feared religious reprisals if they stopped to help him.  The Samaritan did not ask questions, he did not care who the man was...He just tended to the man's wounds and took him to safety.  The Samaritan was truly history's first documented good neighbor role model.

The world is full of people today who are in desperate need of a neighbour.  Just as the Good Samaritan in the parable related by Jesus Christ, you and I are called to "go and do the same."  In other words, help those who need your help...regardless of who they are, or where you might find them along the way.

Kind of sounds like another good New Year's resolution, doesn't it.

A BLIZZARDY WELCOME FOR 2015

 
The New Year 2015 arrived like a lion in Southampton at midnight, bringing with it sub zero temperatures, blizzard proportion winds and snow.  Closed roads in the area kept celebrants close to the home fires.

24 December, 2014

WE SHOULD GIVE FOR THE SAKE OF GIVING

CHRISTMAS BLESSINGS, MY FRIENDS!
Because 'tis the season, I have been thinking (and writing) a lot lately about giving.

I have always considered myself to be a "giver", not necessarily in a monetary sense because my financial resources have often been limited.  I have compensated for a shortfall of disposable income by donating my time, energy and humble talents to worthwhile, charitable causes and I consider that to be a valid and much needed form of giving in today's society.

Regretfully, because of present conditions in my life, my "giving" has fallen off, or at least I am having to be increasingly selective in what I give and how I give it.  That admission does not make me happy, but it is nonetheless a fact of life.

Giving, in whatever form, is the Christian way...It is also the Canadian way.  It is ingrained in most of us.  For that reason, I found myself in complete agreement with Saadlyhah Baksh's letter to the editor in today's Toronto Star.  It was his contention that we should give for the sake of giving, regardless of whether or not we get recognition.  "The purest form of giving is to do it when no one is looking, so you can turn off your (camera) flash and remove the lens that is blinding you from what real generosity is."

Saadlyhah was, of course, referring to the controversial "Pass the Pizza Movement" which is using social media to post photos of people donating pizza to homeless individuals with the hash tag #passthepizza.  The idea of giving to the homeless is wonderful, but fleeting social media campaigns that glamourize the giver while dehumanizing the less fortunate is not the most effective way of instilling long-term positive changes on the social issue.

Trends like Pass the Pizza have their 15 minutes of fame and then something new and more exciting comes along.  Actually, Pass the Pizza is the new ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that went viral on Facebook a month or so ago. 

In today's society, I am fully convinced that people lose the message behind such campaigns and just join in because they have been challenged by a friend or relative and it is a popular thing to do.  Something that was meant to be a genuine act of kindness resultantly got lost in the reward of "likes", "favourites" and "retweets".  I really wonder how many actually followed through and forwarded their pledged donation to the ALS Foundation after being photographed as they were doused with a bucket of mind-chilling ice water?  I commend those whose hearts were in the right place...It was a fun thing to do and the videos were equally fun to watch.

Genuine pride and satisfaction comes from truly giving from the heart.  We should not have to be challenged to give, however, nor should we stand in front of a camera lens to do it. 

If you have the price of a pizza to spare this season and you are moved by the kindness of your heart, why not drop that sum into a Salvation Army kettle or donate it to a local food bank where you know it will be put to good immediate use feeding the hungry, needy -- and homeless? 

21 December, 2014

NO MATTER HOW YOU CELEBRATE IT, CHRISTMAS IS A TIME OF GIVING

Christmas has become such an all-embracing, virtually secular event in western culture that people find it difficult to avoid, irrespective of religious upbringing.  The business sector, retailers in particular, have capitalized on the commercial potential of the festive holiday.

The secular version of Christmas features the evergreen tree (real or artificial) and outdoor lighting, winter holiday pageants at school, the arrival of Santa Claus, frantic shopping for gifts, opening presents...and turkey with all the trimmings. 

The birth of Jesus, the Christian Messiah.
The original sacred version and the basis for Christendom, reflects on the religious aspects of the occasion and features traditional carols, midnight candlelit church services and Sunday School presentations of the crèche scene depicting the birth of the Messiah in the person of a baby who would become Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

Much has been made of the inherent conflict between these two traditions. Around the world, at this time of year, both Santa and Jesus can claim their multitude of followers.

Maclean`s magazine, assuming there exists some cosmic battle for the minds and hearts of people, recently -- and solemnly -- proclaimed Santa to be the winner. Do Santa and Jesus have to be mutually exclusive? I believe there is enough overlap to enable us to partake of both traditions.

The common theme which underlies each story is the centrality of “giving.” Santa brings gifts to the children and as family or friends we in turn exchange gifts with one another.

1881 illustration by Thomas Nast
who, along with Clement Clarke
Moore's poem "A Visit from
St. Nicholas", helped create the
 modern image of Santa Claus.

In Orthodox Christianity, God loved the world so much that he gave the gift of Jesus. In turn, Jesus taught his followers that loving God and one another is the greatest commandment of all. His definition of loving is to offer the gift of ourselves to one another -- our time, our care, our support -- as opportunities arise to do so.

It is true that we can give without loving. Sometimes we give out of guilt, habit or appeasement. In contrast, we can never truly love without giving. At Christmas, the best gifts are those carefully selected and given as a token or symbol of that love or caring.

For most of us, the two traditions merge together on Christmas Eve. Finally, all the preparations for the biggest celebration of the year are in place. Now, secular or sacred, we can truly relax. A sense of wonder, hope, joy and peace slowly settles in. We might even feel an urge to lift our voices in agreement with a familiar Yuletide refrain...

Silent night, Holy night ... All is calm, all is bright.

27 November, 2014

BE SEEING YOU, MAYBE!!!

IT REMAINS TO BE "SEEN": A few days ago I stated that I was serving as a "seeing-eye person" for my blind dog Lucy...Poor Lucy!!!...As it turns out I will be undergoing surgery on both of my eyes next week for a long-developing optic condition which has made it extremely difficult for me to continue to write on computer, or by any other means. As of this post, I will be signing off on Wrights Lane and my other blog sites. Time and inclination will determine if and when I return. Meantime, all the best to those who have followed my internet ramblings for the past 10 years. It has been "my pleasure".
...IN BETTER TIMES
 

22 November, 2014

THE LIGHT HAS BEEN TURNED OFF IN LUCY'S WORLD...MINE TOO!

Three eye surgeries in the past eight months and $10,000 in veterinarian fees later, my little girl Lucy is now totally blind.  I am her new "seeing eye person".  Together, we are learning how to live in a constantly dark world.  She follows my lead, and I follow her brave example in coping with adversity. Mercifully, she does not see my tears.  She would not want her Poppa to be sad.

18 November, 2014

IT HAS BEEN SO COLD THAT IT COULD FREEZE BRASS BALLS

The current, unexpected and premature blast of winter has been the topic of conversation in my world for the last couple of days.  One rather crass but comical expression is not only on the tips of many tongues, but I have seen it a least a dozen times on Facebook in the past 24 hours.  In all honestly, I cannot think of any other 12 words in the English language that better describe how cold it is.

It is often stated that the phrase "It is cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey" originated from the use of a brass tray, called a "monkey", to hold cannonballs on warships in the 16th to 18th centuries. Supposedly, in very cold temperatures the "monkey" would contract, causing the balls to fall off. However, nearly all historians and etymologists consider this story to be an urban legend. Interestingly, this story has been discredited by the U.S. Department of the Navy, etymologist Michael Quinion, and the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).

They give five main reasons:
1) The OED does not record the term "monkey" or "brass monkey" being used in this way. The purported method of storage of cannonballs ("round shot") is simply false.

2) Shot was not stored on deck continuously on the off-chance that the ship might go into battle. In fact, decks were kept as clear as possible. Furthermore, such a method of storage would result in shot rolling around on deck and causing a hazard in high seas. 

3) Shot was stored on the gun or spar decks, in shot racks -- longitudinal wooden planks with holes bored into them, known as shot garlands in the Royal Navy, into which round shot were inserted for ready use by the gun crew.

4) Shot was not left exposed to the elements where it could rust. Such rust could lead to the ball not flying true or jamming in the barrel and exploding the gun. In fact, gunners would attempt to remove as many imperfections as possible from the surfaces of balls.

5) The physics does not stand up to scrutiny. The contraction of both balls and plate over the range of temperatures involved would not be particularly large. The effect claimed possibly could be reproduced under laboratory conditions with objects engineered to a high precision for this purpose, but it is unlikely it would ever have occurred in real life aboard a warship.

So, there goes another myth.  More likely the reference is almost certainly 16th to 18th century humour, just like it is used today to emphasize how cold it is.

Just how cold has it been in your area folks...?

08 November, 2014

ON LAND, AIR AND SEA THEY SERVED


HMCS Atholl K15 was a modified Flower-class corvette that served with the Royal Canadian Navy during the Second World War. She fought primarily in the Battle of the Atlantic as a convoy escort. She was named for Campbellton, New Brunswick, however due to a conflict with a Royal Navy ship with the same name, her name was chosen to commemorate the town instead of being named for it directly.

What follows is a recent conversation with a Canadian Legion comrade recalled by Rev. Bob Johnston of Saugeen Shores.

HMCS Atholl began its short life journey in April, 1943 on the shipbuilding docks of Quebec City. Don Cochrane was a teenager growing up in Calgary. The two, boy and ship, were destined to meet and spend over three perilous years together on the Atlantic crossing. Their task was to protect heavily-laden allied merchant vessels from German submarines.

On Remembrance Day we will honour those who served their country in times of war and as peacekeepers. History books and classroom lessons have always presented the “big picture,” those dates and places of significant battles, the politics of war, the maps, the strategies. While this is important, an understanding of war can also be gleaned by hearing the firsthand stories of those men and women who were there to witness the shaping of that “big picture.”

Don and I recently talked about his war service. With a smile he reminded me that that were “ no oceans around Calgary.”. Like himself, most of the young men who joined the Canadian navy had no prior sailing experience. In 1942, the 18 year old -- and admittedly-reluctant student -- shut his books and enlisted.

The Atholl was one of 122 corvettes designed and built in Canada specifically for escort service in the North Atlantic. The ships were small, about 200 feet long and 33 feet wide. While sturdy and seaworthy, they bobbed and rolled in the water like a fisherman's float.

After the war Winston Churchill acknowledged that his greatest fear during that long struggle against Germany was the danger of Britain being cut off from receiving vital supplies from North America. And destroying those vessels of the Merchant Marine was precisely what U-boat commander-in-chief Karl Donitz had in mind. In the shipping lanes between Newfoundland and Europe lurked his Nazi “wolf packs.” They waited patiently to torpedo any unarmed ships who entered their killing zone, carrying food, munitions, motor vehicles, heavy guns and oil to beleaguered Britain.

The Canadian Navy, with its seven destroyers and growing fleet of corvettes were primarily assigned to protect the Western half of the Atlantic. Despite our small population Canada successfully provided almost half of all the escorts in the Atlantic campaign.

Don quickly discovered he was seasick! Four years later he was still seasick. On one occasion, just after he finished dinner and relieved a buddy on duty watch, his fellow sailor hungrily inquired as the dinner menu. Don`s reply?:

“I can`t remember but if you can wait five minutes I will show you.”

In our conversation Don chose to remember the good memories -- the long walks in the Irish countryside during their rare shore leave -- or meeting a young British woman who was also in the Service and his conniving to be on duty whenever her team came aboard ship to do work. Peggy and Don eventually were married right on the corvette, something else the resourceful sailor managed to pull off.

Deeper memories are there, perhaps lurking under the surface much like those U-boats. In the black darkness of night, a merchant ship could suddenly be torpedoed, its flames lighting up the sky and illuminating the oil-covered faces of the crew slowly drowning in the frigid water.

Don's corvette still saw action for months after the war officially ended. They had to round up remaining U-boats that had refused to surrender. It was only when he saw the dozens of captured subs lined up at St. John`s did Don finally realize the extent of the dangers he had survived at sea.

The Atholl ended her life in 1952, chopped up and being sold for scrap in Hamilton. Don has long ago joined the ranks of the senior citizens and has trouble with his hearing. He is saddened by the reality that the war took the lives of some of his best friends, he also regrets that the conflict robbed him and thousands of other young Canadian men and women of four or five years of  “normal life” between adolescence and adulthood. 

He does recognize and appreciate that he entered the Service as a directionless, vulnerable boy and, how wearing the uniform, quickly became a man of discipline with inner strength and core values. On Tuesday he will remember.

05 November, 2014

REMEMBERING FLYING OFFICER R. S. "BILL" JOHNSTON

The practice of presenting tiny gold caterpillar pins to anyone who saved their life by parachuting from a disabled or flaming aircraft, started in 1922. The Caterpillar is symbolic of the silk worm, which lets itself descend gently to earth from heights by spinning a silky thread to hang from. Parachutes in the early days were made from pure silk. Bill Johnston wore his Caterpillar pin with utmost pride and distinction
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
As Remembrance Day 2014 approaches, I herewith pay tribute to an RCAF flying officer who was shot down over Germany during WW11 and interned in two prisoner of war camps. I do this in memory of all young military servicemen who fought for their country in major world conflicts during the past century.  Lest we forget!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Some people hover under the radar in life because that is exactly the way they want it.  A cousin by marriage, Roy S. "Bill" Johnston of Dresden was one of those individuals.

The youngest of nine siblings born to Mr.and Mrs. William H. Johnson, a Dresden area farm couple, Bill was always quiet-spoken, dry-witted.and congenial, enjoying life to the fullest...Traits that ran through the entire, salt-of-the-earth Johnston clan. Almost from the day he was born, Roy was tagged with the name "Bill" because he looked so much like his father.  He went through life carrying William's name.

 R. S. Bill Johnston
AC2, Flying Officer, RCAF
He graduated from continuation school just as WW11 was breaking out and he answered the call to serve his country by joining in the Royal Canadian Air Force on 8th of December, 1941.  He trained as a navigator and quickly rose to the rank of Flying Officer, ultimately assigned to the historic 115th Squadron RAF and its Lancaster flying bomber ND805.

Aircraft navigation, then as now, demanded much pre-planning. There was the need for a flight plan showing the proposed course, with height, expected flight time and an ETA at the objective. Then, once in the air, the wind made all calculations subject to change, so from observing a position in relation to landmarks on the ground, which continued to vary, calculations made the necessary course and speed alterations.  Bill gained a reputation as being spot on with his navigation calculations.  His calm persona lent itself to the responsibilities of wartime air navigation.

It was one thing to undertake these duties in a small plane over familiar territory, but it was quite another proposition to execute them in a heavy bomber at night, under total blackout conditions, sitting above 9000 or more pounds of bombs and flares, over unfamiliar and hostile territory, while being shot at from the ground or attacked by enemy fighters.  Bill would have have been positioned in the plane at a navigator's table, immediately behind the pilot, as seen in the photo to the right. By today's standards, navigators relied on quite antiquated means, often having to navigate by the stars or use dead reckoning to estimate the aircraft's position.
The navigator's table

After 13 completed missions over Germany, 115th Squadron was airborne at 07:00 hours on 14 October 1944 from Witchford, United Kingdom, as part of first-wave "Operation Hurricane", to bomb a target in Duesburg, Germany. On its return from the the mission, the Lancaster was hit in what was presumed to be a shower of flack. The pilot struggled desperately at the controls as the flaming plane began its hopeless descent. Choosing to stay the course, he ordered the reluctant crew, including his navigator, to bail out.

Bill and Sgt. F. M. French, the flight engineer, were the only members of the seven-man crew to parachute safely to ground.  Bill landed in a dense rural area with an injured hand and promptly found himself being captured by a machine gun-toting German farm woman. The husky, house dress clad, distaff civilian, marched her captive across a field to her home where she cleaned and bandaged the wound on his hand, subsequently turning him over to German military authorities.

The exact landing location of the downed 115th Squadron's aircraft was never determined.  Five of the crew members were eventually declared killed in action.  Bill and French were reported missing in action for several months.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
On the eve of receiving news that her son was missing in action, Mrs. Johnson had an epiphany as she lay in bed that night.  Bill appeared before her, saying "It's alright mother, I'm okay!"  When reporting the incident to her family the next day, she revealed that Bill's hand was bandaged.  For almost eight months, she held to the conviction that her "Billy" would eventually come home safely to her.  And when he ultimately did, she learned for the first time that Bill's hand had in fact been injured when he parachuted from his burning aircraft.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Allied air crew who were shot down in Germany and survived were incarcerated after lengthy interrogation at Air Force P.O.W. camps run by the Luftwaffe (German Air Force), called Stalag Luft.  Stalag Luft 111 was situated in Sagan, 100 miles south-east of today's Berlin.  French was interned in Camp L7 and Bill in Camp L3.  I have not been able to determine how French was captured, nor what happened to him after the war.

Once at their permanent Stalags, the P.O.W.s' chief complaint was the lack of food. Their diet largely consisted of potatoes and moldy bread at least partially made from sawdust. Watery soup was made with carrots or turnips. In the fall of 1944, as Germany's resources ran low, the P.O.W. rations were reduced, and the Kriegies (POWs) were largely dependent on the supplementary rations in their Red Cross aid packages.

Still, with the help of the Red Cross and the YMCA, the American and Canadian prisoners found ways to take their minds off the hunger. Many Stalags allowed their prisoners to play sports. Cards were also popular and helped pass time. Many Stalags had camp newspapers created by the prisoners. Some camps put on musical or dramatic productions. Sending and receiving mail was perhaps the most important activity to the Kriegies.
POW roll call at Stalag Luft 111, Sagan, Germany.

Most agree that officers and airmen received preferential treatment over enlisted soldiers. And while there were numerous P.O.W.s who recounted horror tales of abuse at the hands of their German captors, most Air Force P.O.W.s also felt that at their respective Stalags, the Nazis for the most part, abided by the rules of the Geneva Convention.

By early 1945, the war was going badly for the Germans with Allied forces poised to overrun Hitler's homeland. As the Russian army approached from the east, the Germans decided to move the occupants of certain P.O.W. camps farther west. During the infamous treks across the country, Allied P.O.W.'s were divided into groups of up to 300 men and marched off under guard.  Bill found himself in one of those groups.

The large mass of Air Force prisoners in Stalag Luft III at Sagan was moved in the last days of January, and marched through the frosts, the snows, and the biting winds which beset the paths of the hundreds of columns at that period slowly making their roughly parallel ways west. Orders were given by senior officer prisoners not to attempt to escape, as it seemed that isolated fugitives who could not prove their identity might be an embarrassment to the advancing Allied forces.

It was moreover impossible, owing to the weather, to travel across country and spend nights in the open; and German troops were streaming back through the villages and towns, many of them in an ugly mood. The Air Force prisoners had only three days on the road, for once they reached Spremberg they were loaded onto trains, hundreds to a car. Some went to Tarmstedt, near Bremen, and marched from there to Marlag-Milag Nord at Westertimke. Bill's party went to Stalag IIIA at Luckenwalde, 40 miles southwest of Berlin, a camp which already contained some 16,000 prisoners of various nationalities; another party went to Stalag XIIIC at Hammelburg; and the remainder went to Stalag VIIA at Moosburg, in Bavaria.

In later years, and on the rare occasions that he spoke on the subject, Bill would downplay the miseries of his time in captivity at the hands of the Nazi military.  He was obviously uncomfortable in talking about any part of it.

As it turned out, he had only a few months to endure the conditions of his confinement at Stalag 111-A, Lukenwalde.  The Red Army eventually took control of the camp and released Commonwealth and U.S. captives on the 12th of May, 1945.  A little gaunt, but in surprisingly good condition considering what he'd been through, the Dresden farm boy's nightmare was over.  He survived, but he took no comfort in the fact that thousands of fellow P.O.W.s did not.  It had to bother him too, that at the time he did not know the fate of his other 115th Squadron crew members.

He received his RCAF discharge September 14, 1945, and returned  to Canada and his welcoming family to pick up his life where it left off four years earlier.

After a few weeks of adjustment to civilian life and letting off a little steam, Bill joined his brother-in-law Gordon Wees in a Dresden grocery store business.  When Gordon decided to retire a few years later, Bill took over the store which he ran for 30 years until he himself retired.

Destiny continued to play a role in his life when he met and married my first cousin Norma Sharpe, the first girl that he ever really dated after returning home from the war.  Norma and Bill had one son, Curtis, now a prominent dentist in nearby Chatham.

Bill was extremely active in Dresden Legion Branch 113 and a long-standing member of the local Kinsmen Club.  He also served on the St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church board of directors.  His passion was golf and he was pretty good at it too.
The ever-relaxed Bill Johnston with his
Caterpillar Pin faintly visible on the left
lapel of his suit.

He rarely shared any of his P.O.W experiences, not even with his wife and son.  He preferred to leave all that in the past where, perhaps, it belonged.  In fact, I do not think that any of his closest friends ever knew the extent of his wartime ordeals.  To everyone, he was just a good guy -- extremely unassuming.-- with the slightest hint of a pleasant smile on his face. Someone that everyone in town was glad to know.  If he ever said anything bad about anyone I didn't hear it...If he ever got angry, I wasn't around to witness it.

Bill loved the truck that he used for business, but he rarely drove the family car.  I always found it rather comical that this former air force bomber navigator did not like highway traffic and driving at night.  Norma was his pilot and he left the controls of their Chrysler to her. He may have done a bit of silent navigation which he kept to himself because...Well, that was just Bill.

My mother used to say that Bill Johnston was the most contented fellow that she ever knew..."He has his comfortable home, an easy chair from which to watch his sports on television and he has Norma to look after him...He simply does not need any more than that in his life to make him happy!"  She was completely right in her assessment of a very humble man who deserved the comforts of life.  He earned them and he thoroughly enjoyed every minute.

I am forever indebted to Bill for his kindness the first Christmas after my father passed away.  I worked in a men's clothing store after school and on weekends as a teenager and on this particular Christmas eve at closing time, the store owner told me to pick out a pair of trousers because Bill Johnston had left $15.00 on deposit for me. When I got home that evening, I told my mother about what Bill had done.  "He did?" my mother gasped..."I bet Norma doesn't know about that.  She already has a gift for you."  It was just another of Bill's many quiet gestures and when I thanked him for it, his reply was typically dismissive: "That's okay Dick.  Think nothing of it!"

When Bill passed away a few years ago, members of Legion Branch 113 carried their comrade's casket and formed an honour guard.  That would have pleased him.

Knowing Roy Stevenson "Bill" Johnston as I did, I know he rests in peace...And I, for one, do not intend to forget on the 11th of November, nor any other day of the year for that matter.

14 October, 2014

A GRANDMOTHERLY GUARDIAN ANGEL TO THE RESCUE

People have so many different ideas about angels, but the only authoritative guide in understanding angels is the Bible -- God's Word.  Some think that angels are little, chubby babies flying around with a toy bow and arrow. More often than not, angels are depicted as beautiful young women with wings and a halo.  But the Bible describes angels as great warriors that are here to guide, protect and deliver us when we believe and "speak His word".  Some, including my wife Rosanne, also think that angels are people who have died.

Rosanne has simplistic beliefs, the result of early Roman Catholic schooling and Ukrainian family influences.  She has her own rather unique private relationship with God and the spirits of loved ones who have passed away.  She constantly prays to God and frequently talks to the spirits of her son, her mother, her grandmother -- even my late wife -- all people she considers "angels" for whom she declares deep love and enduring devotion. It works for her and that is all that matters.  I have reason to believe that this mystic phenomenon just might be working for me too.
Maria Shmorhai
1901-1970

Rosanne's grandmother

Many of her "prayers" to God and her angels are directed at me and the things that I do, or experience. She feels that I often need help and I readily acknowledge that she is probably right. Her main go-to spirit or angel is her grandmother.  "She has been there for me in so many ways," explains Rosanne.  "She never lets me down.  I don't ask for miracles...Only for her presence and guidance in our lives."

Let me relate just two of the countless incidents where Rosanne's favorite angel has tended to me personally. Certainly, if it was not her grandmother's spirit looking out for me, someone or something definitely was.  You may draw your own conclusions.

One of my first experiences occurred shortly after we were married 12 years ago.  I was having problems with my nerves and in an extremely agitated state.  An emotional wreck, I could not sleep on this particular night and rather than disturb Rosanne, I got out of bed.  After a drink of water and a breath of fresh Lake Huron air, I collapsed on the living room sofa and eventually drifted into a disturbed, half-conscious stage of sleep.

I was awakened by the approach of soft, shuffling, slippered foot steps on the carpet.  Thinking that I was merely hearing things, I chose not to open my eyes. As the shuffling sound drew closer to me, I was enwrapped in a sudden and unexplainable cloak of warmth.  A hand touched my shoulder, ever so gently, and an instantaneous state of calm came over me.  I opened my eyes, expecting to see Rosanne's figure hovering over me, but in the darkness all that was visible was a coffee table in the reflection of a street light penetrating a split in the living room curtains. There was no one there.  I even reached out and waved my hand to make sure.

"How surreal...I must have been dreaming," I rationalized as I drifted off to a much welcomed, uninterrupted sleep.

The first thing that I asked Rosanne in the morning was "Did you come into the living room last night and touch me?"

"No I didn't!  Why?" was Rosanne's quick reply.

She was equally prompt in interrupting my brief explanation with a matter-of-fact follow up: "Oh, that was my grandmother.  I prayed that she would come into your heart to comfort you and to help get you through the night."

Kind of makes you think, doesn't it?  Without a doubt, it certainly made me think -- and wonder.  It was another introduction to Rosanne and the mysticism that I had previously taken for granted.

A most recent incident in my life was even more remarkable because of unique circumstances and deadly potential.

Our little dog Lucy dog has required eye surgery this past summer.  Due to cataracts and glaucoma, she eventually lost the site in her left eye and required emergency surgery and a lens implant to save the site in her right eye. She had her final surgery on a Monday morning in Ilderton (near London), a three-hour drive from our home in Southampton.  A return trip to the pet eye doctor's clinic was necessary the following morning, the equivalent of a 48-hour endurance test for both me and Lucy.  Under normal conditions, pet owners who travel great distances, stay over night for the mandatory next-day follow up check after eye surgery, but that was out of the question for me because I could not leave Rosanne for an extended period of time due to her delicate health situation.

I was on the last lap of my return trip Tuesday afternoon on Highway 21, between Goderich and Kincarden, when I found myself defying the inevitable.  Traffic was fairly heavy and I was following a grey van in the northbound lane of the single-lane highway.  The van, approximately 75 yards ahead of me and without directional signals, suddenly stopped on the highway to make a lefthand turn into a trailer park.  I applied my breaks but realized that at 85 kilometers an hour I was not going to stop before colliding with the van.

Instantaneously, I elected to avoid disaster by swerving to the right in favour of the soft shoulder of the highway.  With that initial quick action, my car spun out and I could sense a roll-over in the making. Miraculously, however, the car righted itself as I hit the shoulder of the road and entered a 12-foot-deep ditch.  Something seemed to tell me to crank the steering wheel, take my foot off the brake and to accelerate along the ditch.  All I could see was flying dirt and grass to my right and what appeared to be a white orb of some description in the distance.

It is amazing what you think and how much you can think in a fleeting few seconds when your very life is at stake.  I was reconciled for the worst, but kept my foot on the accelerator as I drew closer to that white light.  After a good 50 feet, I felt my tires finally taking grip and I began to exit the ditch at a right angle, coming to a miraculous, abrupt halt with the car's under low under carriage deeply embedded in the soft gravel at the side of the highway.  My right back wheel was four feet off the ground and my front left wheel one foot from the side of the pavement.  I hate to think of what would have happened had my car actually re-enterd the highway at the rate it was going.  Traffic stopped in both directions and for a moment, I was frozen in time.  I had forgotten about Lucy, but there she was trustingly tucked close to my side, almost as if nothing had happened.

With a break in southbound traffic, the driver of the grey van was able to pull into the trailer park driveway and after stopping momentarily, sped out of sight, never to reappear.

People ran up to me from all directions as I opened the door and exited the vehicle.  "Are you all right?" "That van driver didn't give you much warning." "I can't believe that you did not roll at least twice!"  "God, are you ever lucky, it could have been so much worse!"  "You really did a good job of keeping your car under control...I didn't think that you would make it!" were some of the comments.

Among those who rushed to my aid was a Provincial Park warden, a young lady perhaps in her late 20s. She parked her truck in front of my car, leaviing her trouble lights flashing.  She offered to call a tow truck from Goderich, relaying my information to the dispatcher on her cell phone.  She then called a fellow assistant warden from the nearby Point Farms Park and asked him to attend the scene with another truck to serve as a warning for oncoming traffic.  A delightful girl, she engaged me in roadside conversation (often cautioning me when I got too close to traffic and checking on how I was feeling).  She maintained her vigil until the arrival of the tow truck some 45 minutes later.  I could have kissed her, but I opted for a hug as we parted company.

In short order the tow truck operator pulled my car from its precarious position on the side of the ditch and happily announced that there was absolutely no damage to the undercarriage of my car -- not a scratch nor a dint anywhere, thanks in large measure to the loose gravel and long heavy grass.  Less than an hour and $56.00 later, I was on my way again.

When I reached home sweet home, I did not tell Rosanne what had happened until much later that evening. Quite frankly, I did not feel like talking about it at that point in time.  I needed to collect my thoughts, have a glass of wine and a bite to eat before sharing my experience.

"I had a feeling that something had delayed you when you took longer than usual to get home," exclaimed Rosanne when I finally did break the news to her.  "I never stopped paying from the time you left until you walked in the door.  I asked my grandmother to be with you and Lucy and to bring you home safely to me," she added.  The more we talked the more Rosanne was convinced that her grandmother had, once again been my guardian angel.

Several weeks have passed since that incident and I continue to replay the scene in my mind and to ask questions.  1) Were my reflexes and reaction time slow that day due to the fatigue of the two-day ordeal? 2) Could I have reacted sooner to avoid the van stopped in the middle of the highway? 3) Why did my car not roll over at least twice when it was balancing on two wheels at a 45-degree angle in the ditch?  4) What was that white light "orb" in the distance that I drove toward, all the while struggling to keep my car under control?  5)  Why was there not a scratch on my car when it should have been totally demolished?  6) Were there actually two angels looking after me that day -- Rosanne's grandmother and a much alive, young provincial park warden?

There are no doubt rational answers for most of these questions.  I know that Rosanne has hers...and I am becoming a believer!