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

07 February, 2016


Me modelling Maple Leafs hockey 

sweater and socks, a Christmas

 gift circa 1946.
As a kid growing up in the 1940s and '50s in the small southwestern Ontario town of Dresden, I was realistic enough to know that playing in the National Hockey League was an impossible dream. We had no arena with artificial ice in those days and, naturally, no organized minor hockey. That did not stop us from skating, however – on the frozen Sydenham River, on “The Gully” at the town’s northern outskirts, on an outdoor rink located at Jackson’s Park (known then as the Market Square) and on our own back yard rinks which were the result of hundreds of buckets of water carried from kitchen sink taps.

Games of “shinny” were played where ever and when ever more than five or six kids congregated at one time. Generally, there were no rules for those games (we did not know the rules anyway)…No such thing as offsides, icing, or penalties, and rest periods were unheard of -- we just played until enough of us dropped from exhaustion. We did know, however, about faceoffs and scoring goals between pieces of wood, bricks, large stones or someone’s boots strategically placed at each end of the ice surface. When we lost a puck, a flattened tin can worked almost as well.  Some of the older guys who cared about such things, kept track of goals-for and goals-against but in the end the score really did not matter.

Eaton’s catalogues, held on by jar rubber rings, saved many a bruised shin. Actual hockey gloves were virtually unheard of. Frozen toes, fingers and ears tended to thaw out on the long walks home at night. Blistered and swollen cauliflower ears were the proud battle scar of an outside hockey warrior the next day in school.

One of the biggest thrills that Dresden kids of my age had was when we travelled to nearby Rutherford to play hockey in good old Pat Johnston’s chicken barn, which to us was the equivalent of Conn Smythe’s Maple Leafs Gardens. When the Dresden Community Arena was finally built in about 1953, a high school hockey team was formed and we played against schools from Wallaceburg and Blenheim. I played goal for a couple of those unforgettable games wearing pads from the 1930s loaned to me by old-time goalie Jack Martin, tan colored army issue hockey pants handed down to me by cousin Jack Sharpe and my baseball first baseman’s glove serving as a trapper. Blenheim players and coaches salivated when they saw me skate out onto the ice for the first time. They subsequently pelted me with more than 60 shots on goal in 45 minutes of no-stop-time hockey and skated away with a 7-2 victory, which was not too bad considering.

No school homework was done during the CBC Radio Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts by Foster Hewitt (“he shoots, he scores”) from the Gondola high in the rafters of Maple Leafs Gardens and Danny Gallivan (“a cannonating shot”) from the historic Forum in Montreal. I lived vicariously through the on-ice exploits of Syl Apps, Teeder Kennedy, Gaye Stewart and Turk Broda of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings “production line” of Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay and Alex Delvecchio.

It was easy, of course, to keep track of all teams in the National Hockey League in my day because there were only six of them compared to 30 today -- seven in Canada.

This all came back to me this past weekend as Scotiabank's Hockey Day across Canada was celebrated. My own little community of Saugeen Shores marked the event with a weekend skills and drill competition, an invitational hockey tournament and a game featuring the Toronto Furies against the Boston Blades from the Canadian Women's Hockey League.

As I watched the crowds of people flooding in to the Port Elgin Plex and the happy, healthy, enthusiastic faces of the young (and old) players carrying huge bags of equipment, I could not help but think of how times have changed and the remarkable facilities and coaching available to both boys and girls today.

I cannot help but wonder too, if kids dream the same a we oldsters did a half century ago.  Somehow I think that they do...At least I hope that they do! That's half the fun of it, after all.

Colleges and universities now offer hockey scholarships and junior leagues develop hundreds of players with potential professional talent. Playing in the NHL is no longer an impossible dream. Collectively, each year the NHL signs in the neighborhood of 1,000 young players to contracts in the mega bucks range.

Thousands of Canadians also get their weekly hockey fix each year playing for fun in adult recreational (beer) leagues housed in comfortable multi-rink complexes. Hockey-playing days and dreams can be extended well into the senior years.

All I can say is: “born 70 or 75 years too soon!”

05 February, 2016


Burnt out, conflicted and suffering from acute anxiety, I walked away from a 20-year newspaper career in 1979, leaving behind my first and only vocational love -- the news room.  As I cleared out my Brampton Daily Times managing editor's office in the wee small hours of the morning for the last time, I sobbed uncontrollably. Divorce is never easy, regardless of the circumstances.

Out of a sense of self-preservation I became a quitter with a history.  Place me in an uncompromising stressful situation, outside of marital relations, and I look for an exit...Life is too short, I tell myself to this day. I have always had confidence in the ability of rediscovery, which may have been a lone saving grace in ensuing years.  Having obtained certain marketable skills in newspapering, I re-surfaced in a "media" relations capacity with the general insurance industry in Canada.  I did not skip a beat. In fact I gained certain financial stability.  In retrospect, I was a lucky fish out of water!

I have the utmost admiration for individuals who have the necessary sticktoitevness and toughness to stay the course in any line of endeavor and regret that I have not always been able to emulate that characteristic.  I am not as tough as I would like to appear on the surface.  Life in an insular, often unorthodox and unpredictable world of bipolarism, with associated deprivations, is like that.  I managed to survive and went on to experience at least two other career metamorphosis all the while clinging to the fringes of print journalism with a degree of qualification.

After all these years, I continue to contribute marginally as a free-lance writer/commentator and self-publisher with a preclusion to mourn the demise of news gathering as I once knew it.

Toronto Star columnist Carol Goar, with a 40-year background in newspaper writing, admirably tells what it’s like to be a working journalist in early 2016. "You feel lucky but vulnerable; resolute but apprehensive; concerned about colleagues who have lost their livelihood, but unwilling to walk away from the business," she explains.

"Most of us are too busy to analyze the market forces buffeting our profession. But lately the layoffs, cutbacks, closings and grim statistics have been coming in such rapid succession that we — the news gatherers — have become the news. We trade bits of intelligence in the corridors, speculate in coffee shops, theorize over long dinners. Where will the next blow fall? And when?"

Economists, professors of journalism, digital entrepreneurs, consultants and market watchers are quick to proffer their prognoses. Publishers and proprietors try one alternative after the other in a quest for a sustainable business model. Politicians wring their hands (some sincerely, some disingenuously). Investors shrug.

"Understandably, readers look to us for an inside perspective. We’re on the front lines. We should know what’s happening," the winner of two national newspaper awards adds. "The truth is most of us don’t. We have no more access than the public to our company’s financial information, let alone the economic health of the entire business. As journalists, we are trained to look outward, not focus on ourselves. Our job is to produce fresh, well-written news and commentary while our corporate executives track market trends, monitor consumer tastes, gauge the speed and impact of technological progress and develop a durable business plan."

Journalists are indeed the eyes and ears of the public. They are in places that people on the street cannot be, posing questions the average person can’t ask, exposing wrongdoing they can’t see. News reporters listen to marginalized people and put a spotlight on individuals and groups fighting for change. they check out claims that do not sound quite right, chase down tips. The need to know is part of the DNA.

Others do it too, of course -- upstart bloggers, citizen journalists, online activists, freelancers and digital journalists who work for online magazines, newsletters, niche publications or Internet companies such as BuzFeed and Vice News that are cropping up almost over night. Some of them are more technologically agile and have lower fixed costs. Some of these ventures may turn out to be economically viable. It is hard to tell which, if any, will stand the test of time. But for the time being they are having an enormous impact.

So far, none of them have the resources to do successive in-depth investigations. Some mix news and advertising. Some blur the line between fact and opinion. Some are designed primarily for American users. Others cater to specialized interests. As Carol so readily points out: "The majority of them build on reporting newspapers have already done."

Her view is that newspapers, in some form, will survive. "We’ll have to disseminate our work digitally to remain relevant. We’ll have to compete in a crowded market with many sources of information. We’ll have to win back advertisers or come up with a new source of revenue."

She still believes, however, that newspapers serve three essential purposes. "We help keep democracy healthy. We provide part of the glue that holds communities together. And we serve as a forum for public discussion. Nobody does all three as well — yet."

In the twilight of her career, Carol knows that she will not play much of a part in journalism’s next chapter. But she hopes whatever succeeds print is independent enough to stand up to the powerful; comprehensive enough to serve Canadians with different priorities, backgrounds and interests; and versatile enough to showcase the talent and dedication of the extraordinary storytellers coming along behind her.

I remember when Carol started in the business and I bow totally to her ilk today...Unlike me, she is one who has had the fortitude to stay the course in a demanding media environment that has never been known to over compensate its members. She is of the old school and knows whereof she speaks. She, and others of her vintage, will ultimately walk away with heads held high, knowing that they were part of an honorable and colorful era of Canadian newspaper history that will never be duplicated.

Sad, but true!

Carol Goar has been a member of the Toronto Star's editorial board since 1997 and was editor of the editorial pages from 1998 to 2002. Since then she has written a column focusing on politics and social policy. She’s also won two National Newspaper Awards and was recently the recipient of the CMHA's Ontario Mental Health Media Award.  Prior to joining the Star, Goar worked for Macleans, the Ottawa Citizen and Canadian Press.

01 February, 2016


Patricia Wright
I had never met Patricia Wright but when I hear about someone with the same last name as mine, I am curious and pay special attention.

Come to find out, Patricia is a very special young woman who hates to hear “can’t.” It's as vulgar to her as any swear word.

If she went around saying “can't”, her life-long battle with seizures coupled with the death of her parents, a debilitating car accident and a stroke, would have most certainly kept her from ever trying martial arts. Instead, she persevered and ultimately made Team Ontario, qualifying for the national karate championships.

“I didn't ever consider that I would be able to make it,” said Wright, who trains at Chatham's Zanshin Dojo Karate Club. “I'm not young. I'm 39 years old. I'm going to be 40 in a few months. It's a young person’s game. And I'm disabled. But anything is possible.”

She proved that philosophy again in no uncertain terms recently by winning a gold medal in her division at the Karate Canada championships in Richmond, B.C. Now she's hungry for a bigger stage however but she has to wait to see if her division will be added to the world championships in October in Austria. “Hope and pray,” she said. “Hope and pray. But I'm not going to stop here.”

Wright has had memory problems since 2010 when a car hit her bicycle and sent her head bouncing off the pavement. But she can still recite the credo of her first martial arts class. She reads it often to be sure she doesn't forget.

“I will not use or believe the word cannot.

I will keep my thoughts and words and actions positive.

I will believe anything can be achieved if one has the desire to achieve it.”

She personalizes the credo by adding one more line. “It's my thoughts, my words, my actions, my choice.”

Wright has suffered uncontrolled seizures since she was 22 months old. Her mother, Pearl, was protective but Wright still competed in curling and basketball. She wanted more, though. She started with martial arts in the late '90s in her hometown of Ancaster, ON. It was her form of teenage rebellion, as she puts it.

 “At least I didn't start smoking and doing drugs. It was fitness. It was a good way to rebel,” she emphasized.

She fell in love with karate. When her club switched to teaching krav maga, a self-defence system she found too violent, she joined a new club. As fate would have it, she was on her final day of black-belt testing when a seizure, possibly stress-related, sent her to the hospital. She isn't sure if she'll ever try again to replace her brown belt with black. She's reluctant to again put her body through the strain. She's happy to continue doing kata -- choreographed karate movements that students try to perfect. She competed in kata at the recent national championships, which welcomed athletes with a disability (AWAD) for the first time this year.

“I just want to continue learning,” she explained. “I don't want to get stuck and say, 'Those are all the kata I’m allowed to learn.' As long as I keep learning, it doesn't matter what belt I have.”

Wright's parents owned a catering company in Ancaster and she helped them while studying at George Brown College to be a patisserie, or pastry chef. She was so good, teachers made her compete as a pro instead of a student in her final year of school. She loved making breads and pastries and, most of all, wedding cakes. She also worked at Tim Hortons and was being groomed to be a manager.

When her mother announced in 2009 that the family was moving to Chatham, Wright agreed to put her career on hold. Sadly, her mother died before the move, but Wright promised to look after her ailing father, Phillip, in Chatham for the next year. The one-year deadline was nearing when her world was turned upside down once again.

She was riding her bike on a sidewalk (the risk of a seizure made riding on roads too dangerous) when she was hit by a car exiting a parking lot. “The main thing I remember is my head bouncing off the ground,” she said. “It reminded me of a basketball.” She suffered a traumatic brain injury and was diagnosed with epilepsy. The crash also injured the right side of her body. She still wears braces on her shoulder, knee and ankle.

She was assigned a personal care worker. One day, the worker couldn't understand her. Wright had suffered a stroke. She's gotten better since then, but she's still visited by the Red Cross twice a week. She needs help housecleaning and sometimes must be reminded to eat her meals. Every appointment goes in her iPhone. Even with the reminders, she still sometimes shows up early – maybe a few hours, maybe a whole day.

She gets around with a cane or a walker. If she falls, she goes down hard on her face. She's broken her nose and cheekbone. Her front teeth are fake. “Forgive me for saying, it's hell, but I deal with it,” she said. “... You have to deal with it. Otherwise, it's going to bring you down further and further and further.”

She jokes that doctors “ganged up” and forced her to get a seizure response dog (she’s a cat person) “George” is tethered to her waist whenever she leaves home. The miniature poodle is trained to bark like a demon and get attention if Wright falls.

As she gets older, she needs more recovery time between seizures. Her last was on Dec. 16. “It's been just over a month since I've had one, which is pretty good,” she said, laughing. She also chuckles when noting the car that hit her was leaving a Tim Hortons parking lot. “I guess my career there wasn't meant to be,” she said.

Wright went without participating in karate for at least a year after the accident. She can't remember exactly how long. She tried to rejoin her former club in Chatham, but she was turned away as an insurance risk. She's been at the Zanshin Dojo Karate Club for two years. “She's very determined,” chief instructor Daniel Whittal said. “There are a lot of students in the dojo who are inspired by what she does. She shows them to never quit, no matter how frustrated they might be. She might fall down, but she gets right back up and puts the game face on.”

Her balance isn't what it used to be, but it is improving. She needs longer to learn new tasks. “I've gotten as far as I have now because I used to do martial arts before,” she said. “My muscles remember.” If she can't perform a movement, Whittal will modify it for her. But she'll try almost everything.

“I don't like to say 'no',” she said. “I don't like the word, 'can't.' I try. And if the joints don't agree, I'll stop. But until they start screaming at me, I'll keep going.” She has limited mobility of her right side. Her “lazy leg” sometimes has a mind of its own. Her right shoulder is easily dislocated, so she can't raise her right hand above her waist. Fortunately, she's left-handed.

Many people are worse off, she insists. She meets some at the New Beginnings Club for those who have had strokes or brain injuries. “I see that, and I'm lucky,” she adds.

She doesn't often do kumite, or sparring, but she knows how to punch. If given the chance, she wouldn't turn down a match. “There's no harm in trying, right?”

That’s (W)right Patricia…Once a champion, always a champion!

We can all learn something from you...Keep on “trying” – and achieving!

20 January, 2016


I study personalities…It helps me understand contrary people in particular and why they do and say certain things -- and why they advocate issues that are not always popular with the “agreeable” mainstream, whatever that may be.

Curious about a person's willingness to obey an authority figure, social psychologist Stanley Milgram a few decades ago began trials on a now-famous experiment. In it, he tested how far a subject would go electrically shocking a stranger (actually an actor faking the pain) simply because they were following orders. Some subjects, Milgram found, would follow directives until the person was dead.

A new Milgram-like experiment published recently in the Journal of Personality took this idea to the next step by trying to understand which kinds of people are more or less willing to obey these kinds of orders. What researchers discovered was surprising: Those who are described as "agreeable, conscientious personalities" are more likely to follow orders and deliver electric shocks that they believe can harm innocent people, while "more contrarian, less agreeable personalities" are more likely to refuse to hurt others.

For an eight-month period, the researchers interviewed the study participants to gauge their social personality, as well as their personal history and political leanings. When they matched this data to the participants' behavior during the experiment, a distinct pattern emerged: People who were normally friendly followed orders because they didn't want to upset others, while those who were described as unfriendly stuck up for themselves.

"The irony is that a personality disposition normally seen as antisocial — disagreeableness — may actually be linked to 'pro-social' behavior,'" writes Psychology Today's Kenneth Worthy. "This connection seems to arise from a willingness to sacrifice one's popularity a bit to act in a moral and just way toward other people, animals or the environment at large. Popularity, in the end, may be more a sign of social graces and perhaps a desire to fit in than any kind of moral superiority."  Some people who are religiously rigid (yes, even Christians) may well fall into the "agreeable, conscientous behavior" category. I can think of a lot of examples, but will let readers make that judgemental call.

The study also found that people holding left-wing political views were less willing to hurt others. One particular group held steady and refused destructive orders: "women who had previously participated in rebellious political activism such as strikes or occupying a factory."

The findings lend themselves even further to Milgram's original goal in the '60s: trying to understand the rise of Nazism. Milgram began his experiments in July 1961, three months after the start of the trial of German Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. He believed his findings might help explain how seemingly nice people can do horrible things if they are ordered to do so.

Does that mean the Nazis were just nice people trying to follow the dictator Hitler's orders and be polite? You probably wouldn't want to go that far, but suffice to say, it turns out nice people just want to appease authorities, while rebels stick to their guns on moral grounds.

For me, I now try to be more understanding of rebel types because they just might be more morally social-minded than meets the eye. In all honesty, I sense some rebellious tendencies in myself and that is not necessarily a bad thing, I am happy to discover.

17 January, 2016


"People do not rescue dogs, dogs rescue people!"  That rather profound statement was made by the comedic George Lopez, emcee of The World Dog Awards Show on television the other night.

The truth in those few words stayed with me long after the TV special went off the air.  I do not think that Lopez was referring specifically to the "rescue" breed of dog, rather he meant all breeds -- purebred to mongrel -- dogs who are loyal and love unconditionally, dogs who are trained to lead the blind and physically disabled, visitor dogs who bring joy to the ill and infirm in hospitals and old-age homes, dogs who bring comfort with the wag of a tail or a well-placed lick on the cheek, dogs who have a sixth sense when it comes to being sensitive to human illness and anxiety.  In other words, dogs just being themselves which is the only way they know how to be.

I would go a step further with the "dogs rescue people" thought...I think that they literally save lives.

Personally, I do not know how I could live without my little dog Lucy, a blind 11-year-old Miniature Rat Terrier who weighs in at 15 pounds soaking wet.  Lucy is absolutely the most pure, unspoiled creature that I know.  She knows nothing of rejection, hate or meanness because we have sheltered her.  She just loves everyone and thinks that everyone loves her too.  She is everyone's best friend.

When glaucoma took her eyesight a little over a year ago, I sadly and reluctantly considered euthanizing her because I could not accept her having to function in a dark world, not seeing her favorite toys, her food bowl, birds and squirrels  -- me.  I even went so far as talking to our vet about it...He understood but suggested I go home and think about it overnight.

Oh ye of little faith, she has more than justified my ultimate faith in her to assimilate and to stay the course.  Her adjustment to a new dark world was virtually overnight...She is the same old Lucy, she just bumps into things more now and I have had to introduce her to new verbal directions enabling her to follow my voice, like "over here", "other way", "stop", "Lucy up", "Lucy go".  She knows our house and yard like the back of her paw...Increased instincts to smell and to hear have compensated for her inability to see.  She still runs to greet friends and family...and strangers too, if we let her.

She is my constant companion, either at my heels or on my lap (her favorite place).  She knows my every mood and anxiety, my bodily pain and heart aches.  I frequently just hold her to my chest for a few minutes and the warmth of her body absorbs the heaviness, the aches and the hurt that tends to localize and overwhelm a soul.  She sleeps with me in bed a night, tucked tightly to my hip.  I have often said that one day they will have to surgically remove her.

Lucy's antics make me laugh, generally at a time when I am not seeing much humor in life.  She brings the first smile of the day to Rosanne's face, likewise the last smile at night.  You simply cannot become too down or depressed when you have a dog in your life.

"Wus" as I often call her, comes to Rosanne for affectionate pats on the head, belly rubs and the odd treat, but understands the delicacy of my wife's condition and has never offered to jump up on her lap, with one remarkable exception a few months ago when we returned from the hospital with a cancer diagnosis for the first time.  Lucy hovered under Rosanne's reclining lift chair and then began to repeatedly and uncharacteristically jump up on the leg rest.

"I think that she wants to comfort you," I offered as I gently placed the little soul on Rosanne's lap. Lucy immediately adjusted herself into position higher up on Rosanne's stomach, directly on the spot where a lymphoma tumor had been discovered, and remained there for the next three hours.  I was astounded and Rosanne was deeply touched.  It was a one-time-only occurrence, but it had great lasting meaning for us.  Dr. Lucy doing her job!

Rosanne's words pretty much sums it all up.  "I never knew that you could love a dog so much!"

Indeed, Lucy has rescued us more times than I can count...She gives us life...She is our life!

15 January, 2016


Under the scars of a hard life Ugly was beautiful

I know for a fact that many of my readers are pet lovers and for that reason I pass on a story that is sure to tug at the heart strings.  You might even want to have some Kleenex tissue within reach.

What’s in a name?  You’d be surprised!

Everyone in the apartment complex knew who “Ugly” was…He was the resident tomcat.

Ugly loved three things in this world – fighting, eating garbage, and shall we say love.  The combination of these, coupled with a life spent outside, had their effect on Ugly.  I’m going to leave the rest of this story to a kindly woman we’ll call “Betty”.
“To start, Ugly had only one eye and where the other should have been was a gaping hole.  He was also missing his ear on the same side, his left foot appeared to have been badly broken at one time and had healed at an unnatural angle making him look like he was always turning the corner.  His tail was missing, leaving only a small stub which he would constantly jerk and twitch.  He would have been a dark gray stripped tabby, except for sores covering his head, neck and shoulders.

“People would say ‘That’s one ugly cat!’  Children were warned not to touch him.  Adults threw rocks at him and sprayed water on him when he approached their homes.
“Ugly always had the same reaction…If you turned the hose on him, he would stand there getting soaked until you gave up.  If you threw things at him, he would not run away.  Rather he would curl his frail body around your feet as if seeking forgiveness.  Whenever he spied children, he would come running and meowing frantically as if begging for their love and attention.

“One day Ugly made the mistake of sharing his love with a neighbor’s Huskies.  The dogs did not respond favorably and Ugly was badly mauled.  From my apartment I could hear his screams and I tried to rush to his aid.  By the time I got to where he was laying, it was apparent that Ugly’s sad life was almost at an end.
“Ugly lay in a wet circle, his back legs and lower back twisted grossly out of shape, a gaping tear in the white strip of fur that ran down his front.  As I picked him up and tried to carry him home I could hear him wheezing and gasping. ‘I must be hurting him terribly’, I thought.

“Then I felt a slight movement followed by a tugging and sucking sensation on my ear…Ugly, in so much pain, suffering and obviously dying, was trying to suckle my ear.  I pulled him closer to me and he bumped the palm of my hand with his head, then turned his one golden eye towards me and I could hear the distinct sound of purring.  Even in the greatest pain, that ugly battle-scarred cat was asking only for a little affection, perhaps some compassion.
“At that moment I thought Ugly was the most beautiful, loving creature I had ever seen.  Never once did he try to bite or scratch me, or even try to get away.  Ugly just looked up, completely trusting me.

“Ugly died in my arms before I got him back to my apartment but I sat and held him for a long time afterwards, thinking how one scarred, deformed little stray could so alter my opinion about what it means to have true pureness of spirit, to love so totally and truly.  He taught me more about giving and compassion than a thousand books or lectures ever could and for that I will always be thankful.
“This tiny, abused ball of fur had been scarred on the outside but I was scarred on the inside and it was time for me to move on and learn to love truly and deeply…To give my all to those I cared for and to those who cared for me.

“Many people want to be richer, more successful, well liked, beautiful, but for me I will always try to be Ugly.”
Note to Betty:  You may always try to be Ugly but to me you will always be beautiful.

29 December, 2015


I have written stories all my life...It is what I do...It has put food on my table.  It has given me satisfaction on one hand and a certain amount of anguish on the other. It all goes with the territory!

From time to time, I have given readers a peak into my personal life on the outside chance that there will be those who may be able to relate to my experiences.  I would like to write the complete story of my rather complex life too, but even in twilight years it is constantly changing (for the worse?) and that is what tortures me.
"Merrily, merrily we go...!"

In the early years I was under the rather naïve impression that I would land a fulfilling job, marry, have children and live happily ever after.  I knew that there would be ups and downs along the way but, heck, I was up for the challenge.  What I was not "up" for was the seemingly unfairness with which one's life can unfold.  The biggest toll-taking challenge for me in the past 25 years has been fighting battles with cancer along with two wives, one of which we lost and the other currently being waged.  The second time around, some 15 years later, the unanswered question remains: Who will survive the longest -- second wife Rosanne, or her 10-years-older primary care-giver with his depressingly diminishing ability to cope emotionally and physically.

I literally find myself progressively a little bit older and deeper in debt in most aspects of my life as I prepare to experience my 78th New Year, and I struggle to fashion a new life story with a happier ending than might otherwise be the case if I allowed the status quo to persist.

I have read that one of the most critical aspects of the transition into living what may be termed a quantum life is to realize that change is actually the foundation to one's entire existence.  I acknowledge that in every moment we live, our thoughts and experiences change us in some way.  For most people, this change is so small as to essentially go unnoticed, and as it is all too easy to become invested in resisting change and keeping things known and comfortably/uncomfortably the same, that tends to slow things down even further.

Perhaps once we begin to embrace the truth of this constant state of change, it is then up to us as to how profoundly that change unfolds in our life, through the thoughts and experiences we open ourselves up to or consciously choose to pursue.  So, for me, it becomes exceedingly important that I not hold on so tightly to whatever I see my "story" being at present time, but to instead create a daily experience of wonder and astonishment that reinvents that story as it happens in real time.

How may I accomplish this, you might ask?  Simply by taking hold of the moment and making choices that will lead to the story I want to live, discovering new ways of engaging myself in even the most mundane of everyday activities -- things like getting dressed in the morning, preparing food, doing laundry, providing for Rosanne's daily health needs (she is almost totally disabled and on oxygen to keep her lungs open), grocery shopping, housekeeping, exhaustive three-hour early-morning drives to the hospital for chemotherapy treatments on back-to-back days, as well as finding time to welcome new and inspiring challenges (writing, of course, is my major diversion) -- all of which are nothing new for me.  I've been doing it for the better part of 25 years.  It is my destiny.  But it does not get any easier with the doing.
The key is to move out of conditioned habits and into experiments, exploring new possibilities for interactions with oneself, others and the world.  It has been so easy for me to fall into a rut of self-deprivation which automatically feeds self-pity, depression and changes in temperment.  And that is no way to end the story of anyone's life!

I cannot predict the future...I have no idea of how much longer my health will hold up.  Rosanne's oncologist in London says that her type of Mantel Cell Lymphoma cannot be cured, but it can be controlled with properly-monitored treatment.  So far, so good!  We struggle to be hopeful in writing the ending to a life story that began so happily.

As opportunities arrive that begin to fit into the new "story" we have set in motion, we will meet each one with deep gratitude and joy for the gifts they bring to us.

In putting the finishing touches to this post I can hear Rosanne singing in the next room "Merrily, merrily we go...everywhere we go!"  She needs a bushel basket to carry the tune and I don't know where she's getting the words, but it's making her happy...and me too.

"Merrily we go!"  That has to be the theme for the rest of my story.

28 December, 2015


A few days ago on Wrights Lane I talked about Canada's established United Nations commitment to accept a certain number of immigrants and refugees each year and concluded by suggesting the time might be right for us to review the Biblical "Good Samaritan" story.

Those of us who adhere to the Christian faith know that the First Commandment is to love God with all our being. The Second Commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves. Generally, the perception of the Good Samaritan  parable conveyed by Jesus of Nazareth is that the intended moral was to do good deeds for those we meet along life's highway. And for the most part that is correct, but there is a much deeper meaning to this parable that is worth exploring. 

To understand this deeper significance, one must take a look at the troubled Jewish and Samaritan relationship in First Century Judea where Jesus and his followers lived at the time.  The Samaritans were a mix of Jew and Gentile and the Jews, who followed religious law to the letter, considered them to be spiritually unclean and polluted; so much so that a deep hatred prevailed between the two camps. This, in spite of the fact that the Samaritans were actually considered the first followers of Jesus Christ.

The Good Samaritan Parable was precipitated by a series of rather testy questions posed to Jesus by a lawyer who was an expert in Mosaic Law, not a court lawyer in today's sense. As Jesus was having a private conversation with his disciples, the lawyer interjected by asking: "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus responded by asking a question of his own: "What is written in the law?" and the lawyer quickly answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself."

"You have given the right answer," Jesus responded... "do this, and you will live." Pushing the issue a little further, the lawyer then asked what many scholars have interpreted as a natural and sincere final question: "And who is my neighbor?"

It is pertinent to clarify that the lawyer was from a class of Jewish people who prided themselves on how carefully they obeyed God -- they, along with the Pharisees, were fastidious about observing the law in every detail. As a "teacher of the law" he genuinely sought an answer to the neighbor question.  His answer from Jesus came in the form of a carefully worded parable involving a priest, a Levite, a Samaritan, and a badly beaten man who had been stripped of his clothing, robbed and left to die at the side of a treacherous stretch of road between Jerusalem and Jericho, called by reputation "The Way of Blood" because so many travelers had been brutally attacked and robbed there.

Jesus intentionally left the beaten victim unidentified. The audience, being Jewish, would naturally assume that he was a Jew. Being in this half dead state he would be unconscious.  Since he was stripped of his clothing, he then was unidentifiable. Historically, a person can be identified in one of two ways: his dress and his dialect. The man in this case was void of ethnic background, void of stature, void of position.

In the Gospel According to Luke, Chapter 10, verses 25-37, the parable unfolds. The Jewish Priest was the first to come across the bloody, crumpled form of the naked man, but rather than get involved, he passed by on the other side of the road; no doubt influenced by religious law implications of purity and the act of touching. 

In the priest's defence, how could he be sure the wounded man was a neighbor since he could not be identified? If the person lying there was a non-Jew, the priest could be risking defilement, especially if the person were actually dead.    Priests were supposed to be ritually clean, exemplars of the law.  There would be immediate shame and embarrassment suffered by the priest at the expense of the people and their peers for such defilement. 

If, in fact, he had just completed his mandatory two weeks of service, for instance, he would then need to return and stand at the Eastern Gate of the temple, along with the rest of the unclean.  Furthermore, in addition to the humiliation involved, the process of restoring ritual purity was time consuming and costly. It required finding, buying, and reducing a red heifer to ashes, and the ritual took a full week.

The priest was in a predicament. Moreover, he could not approach closer than four cubits to the dead man without being defiled, and he would have to overstep that boundary just to ascertain the condition of the wounded man. The Levite, a temple worker, followed close behind and he too avoided the helpless victim, perhaps influenced by the same concerns as the priest.

The Samaritan on the other hand, governed by the very same Jewish law and a complete stranger too, stopped and gave the man his immediate attention, tended to his wounds and proceeded to take him on his donkey to a nearby inn. He handed over two silver coins, the equivalent of two weeks wages, to the innkeeper for the man's lodging and promised reimbursement on his return trip for any further expenses.

What an exceptional level of assistance this was, especially since the victim was a total stranger and one who may well have been a social enemy. The Samaritan's act was truly one born out of compassion for a fellow man -- a "neighbor" he did not even know.

Jesus concluded his deceptively simple little story by asking the lawyer: "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" The lawyer's answer was a convinced "The one who had mercy on him."  The lawyer got the message, but do we truly grasp the significance of it today? Do we fully understand that we, as humans, cannot always meet the perfect requirements of the law? Even those who fully dedicate themselves to it, are subject to falling short.

All these centuries later, we still write people off because of the color of their skin, how they dress or because of where they live, or what they do, or even how they relate to us. We are living in a society that has become dehumanized, where life in some quarters is not worth much.

In not granting the benefit of doubt to those seeking Canadian refuge in times of trouble in their own homeland, we let our lack of true Christian compassion show.  The inevitability of some undesirable individuals slipping through immigration security is always assumed...It simply goes with the territory.  It is a crying shame, however, when everyone ends up being undeservedly tarred with the same brush.  

We should be asking ourselves today..."Do we want to take the safe route, wearing blinders, as we travel life's highway or do we aspire to being a 'Good Samaritan' who stops along the way to come to the aid of a neighbor in need."

Let your conscience be your guide, my friends!

27 December, 2015


This post is intended for those who are under the misconception that the Canadian government should not allow refugees into this country until it can first provide jobs, food and housing for the poverty-stricken souls already living here.

Let’s get something straight once and for all…The Canadian government does not bring refugees into this country willy-nilly and on a political whim. Forget ISIS and the current influx of Syrian refugees for a moment…

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that almost 960,000 refugees are currently in need of resettlement in a third country. These are refugees who, according to the UNHCR, can neither return to their country of origin nor integrate into their country of first asylum.

Together, the international community has committed to resettle around 80,000 refugees each year. Historically, Canada has resettled approximately 10% of this total; the government’s current goal is to resettle between 8% and 12%. In 2010, the government committed to increase the number of refugees resettled each year from abroad by 20% (2,500 people). For 2015 and before Justin Trudeau’s overly ambitious goal of 25,000 by the end of the year (since realistically downgraded to 10,000), the government had agreed to accept up to 14,500 resettled refugees, out of a total of 285,000 new immigrants.

Canada admits refugees for resettlement on a humanitarian basis. Resettlement also provides a way for Canada to alleviate the burden for host countries and share the responsibility for displaced persons. In addition to commitments to resettle refugees, Canada has international obligations to those who come to Canada on their own and are found to be in need of protection (refugee claimants or asylum seekers).

In order to be eligible for resettlement in Canada as a refugee, a person must meet the criteria of the 1951 United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees: he or she must have a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion. Further, the person must be outside his or her country of nationality or habitual residence and not able to find protection there.

In addition, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations stipulate that those outside their country who are “seriously and personally affected by civil war, armed conflict or massive violation of human rights” are eligible for refugee resettlement. The regulations also state that the applicant must be without a reasonable prospect, within a reasonable period, of a durable solution in a country other than Canada.
Finally, the applicant must normally show potential to become successfully established and must meet admissibility criteria related to medical condition and security screening.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) visa officers stationed overseas generally determine if an individual is eligible for resettlement and admissible to Canada. Some refugees are referred to CIC for consideration by a designated referral organization (primarily the UNHCR), while others are referred by private sponsors. Applications are generally considered individually, except where the mass movement of refugees (i.e., as a result of conflicts or generalized violence) has caused the UNHCR to declare a group “prima facie” refugees.

Resettled refugees come to Canada in the following ways:

-- through the federal Government-Assisted Refugee (GAR) Program (which includes the Joint Assistance Sponsorship Program);

-- with the assistance of civil society groups through the Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR) Program; or

-- through the Blended Visa Office–Referred Program, which combines government and private support.

Bigots can rant and rave all they want about closing our borders but, simply stated, Canada is committed to accepting a certain number of immigrants each year. There is no getting around it. Ideally, we are a humanitarian country, prepared to be our brother’s keeper when crisis situations arise in the world community. That is not to say, however, that immigration has to be at the expense of those already living at the poverty level in Canada.

As private citizens, we all have a responsibility. The onus is on us, the Canadian public, to provide for the needy among us -- not the government with its humanitarian commitment to the United Nations and limitations in being all things to all people with our tax dollars. Our individual response to the poor, hungry, hurting, and destitute is clear. 

Conscience and compassion only lead to one conclusion…we must help wherever we can! Together we can be part of the solution. We must educate ourselves about the plight of the poor, what life is like for one-third of the world’s population, and how socio-economic and political forces impact the quality of life in different parts of the world and within our own Canadian borders. We should put real donations where our critical mouth is by being morally supportive, contributing to community food banks and organized outreach programs. If there is no "help the needy" initiative where you live -- then start one! Our actions speak far louder than our (negative) words.

Poverty is by no means exclusive to Canada where we have an unquestioned affordable housing issue that only increases with each passing year...We must understand that the problem is widespread across the globe and will never be completely eradicated. An estimated 1.4 billion people live in extreme poverty, defined as living on less than $1.25 a day. There is no denying that such poverty assaults human dignity and robs people of their human potential. Fortunately, poverty is a disease with a cure. There are countless stories of poor persons and committed communities rising above crushing poverty. The mission for those of us of good will is to work with the poor and victims of circumstance to achieve greater economic opportunity. Local councils, churches and service clubs are the natural starting points.

Continually taking our government(s) to task and beating them up for humanitarian action on the world’s stage, gets us nowhere. What does get us some place is when government and the public 
(researchers, policymakers, social entrepreneurs, nonprofit development groups, microfinance institutions, corporations, and philanthropists) work together to provide necessary sustenance for our homeless, unemployed and hungry brothers and sisters.  It is all about taking action by sharing resources and some of our bounty, alas -- inevitably more of our tax dollars.

Let’s not turn our individual backs and leave solutions entirely to the government which we are so fond of criticizing at the least provocation. We can be part of the overall solution if we are true to our Christian teachings and not conveniently selective with our good works, as is so often the case.

Perhaps this is the perfect time and place to review the Good Samaritan parable as told in Luke 10;29-37.

22 December, 2015


Whenever possible I have shared human interest, good news stories on my web sites and with friends on Facebook. In a perfect world, that is what I think social media network participation should be all about.

Every community has at least one special character...You know, someone who attends all community events and cannot be missed trudging along downtown streets...Everyone knows them by their first name and they delight in acknowledgement.

A case in point is how the Saugeen Shores community of Port Elgin has accepted and taken to heart an 80-year-old developmentally-challenge woman.  Vi Cottrill turned 80 on December 19th amidst a sea of pink -- her favourite colour -- and it was an occasion that would turn out to be a day-long celebration for the town's  favourite "superfan".  That's just a small town for you!

Vi Cottrill, pretty in pink

The celebration began with a tea held at Port Elgin United Church where more than 100 guests turned out to bring birthday wishes.  Even Mayor Mike Smith presented her with a special certificate.  Those who came to say 'Happy Birthday' were of all ages. From the very young to the young-at-heart, all those who have played any kind of sport in Saugeen Shores, know Vi Cottrill because she very rarely misses a game, whether it's baseball, bowling or hockey.
Throughout the decades, she has been presented with team trophies and individual player medals. Those who attended the tea were amazed to see that she had kept each of the hundreds of medals she had been given along with all the trophies.  She even has a centre-ice seat at the arena with her name on it.

Vi's many awards.
From tea time, it was then game time in the evening as she came out to watch her favourite Saugeen Shores Winterhawks WOAA Sr. Men's team play. As she has on past birthdays, Vi dropped the ceremonial puck after being escorted on to the ice by the team Captain and then was ushered to her own special seat. Following the first period of play, fans had the chance to personally wish her a happy birthday and enjoy Tim Hortons' doughnuts provided by the Winterhawks for everyone in the arena. 

Vi has watched young players grow up in local sports and now watches as their children and grandchildren become involved. Her phenomenal memory is a data bank of jersey numbers, names and statistics. She knows when teams are playing and who they are playing and what the final score is ... long after the games are over. She walks countless miles on arthritic legs to all local ball fields and the arena. 

She and her sister, Wilma, grew up in Port Elgin on a small farm owned by their grandparents. Today she has become a steadfast integral part of the community where everyone recognizes her...and treats her like a celebrity.  She volunteers at Elgin Lodge retirement living centre, attends church faithfully, helps at the annual Christmas Eve dinner at Living Hope Church in Port Elgin, is a part of the Rail Trail Association volunteer group and never misses a church or community dinner.
You approach Vi with caution...She will talk your arm off.  I once made the mistake of standing beside her during a minute of silence at a Remembrance Day service...You wouldn't believe the frowns we got...I should have known.  Served me right!

(With thanks to the Saugeen Times)

20 December, 2015


As the days dwindle down to a precious few before December 25, the media gives constant updates on dollars spent on retail sales.  We are reminded that there are fewer days of shopping left and made to feel guilty if we do not shop 'til we drop.  At the same time we increasingly see and hear the salutations "Seasons Greetings" and "Happy Holidays."
The late Pat Salmon
For some reason, the past dozen years or so I have been holding on to a clipping of a newspaper column written by the late veteran journalist Pat Salmon.  I always enjoyed Pat's take on issues of the day and was particularly impressed by this one piece: "Please keep Christ in Christmas".  Pat's stand on this subject, in truth, was the best that I have ever seen.  We often chatted about things that he had written, particularly nostalgic, homespun pieces which were Pat's forte.  He was published in a number of weekly community newspapers, including Mississauga and Brampton where I usually picked up on him when I was editor of the Brampton Daily Times.

Pat wrote that it seemed to him that the word "Christmas" had become synonymous with shopping and our most sacred Christian festival celebrating the birth of Jesus had been reduced to "Tis the season to be jolly."  "Too many of us think that Christmas Spirit is a product sold by the LCBO," he stated.

"In our rush to please everyone, we are losing our heritage," he contended.  "I know that Canada is not a 100 per cent Christian nation, but on other festive occasions like the Feast of Eid or Ramaddam or Channakuh or Roshashanna, no one tries to water down the tradition.  I am sure that no religion in the world objects to the simple message of Christmas -- 'Peace on Earth and Goodwill towards men'."

Pat made no secret that he doubted the Virgin Birth, but did believe a very special prophet was born in Bethlehem at that time and He had a special message for us all.  "That message has been confused by theologians over the ages," he said.  "The Golden Rule has been turned into 'he who has the gold makes the rules' and 'do unto others before they do it to you'."  He simply felt that cynicism should not stop decent people from being decent.  "The detraction from the message given so long ago points to a major malaise in our material national thinking."

We agreed that society was becoming molecular in as much as our current philosophy was one of listening to single purpose viewpoints.  Fashion a decade or so ago, as is the case even more so now, dictates that if one molecule in a mass objects to the behavior of any other molecule (or the mass itself), the objecting molecule is right.  That means the mass as a whole is wrong.

I am especially offended, too, by the fringe few who take up causes simply because of some sick self-serving need to be heard. They delight in upsetting tradition and the beliefs of others.  In taking away, they contribute nothing in return.

This new law of behavior allows single purpose groups to prevail over established customs without regard for the good of the whole.  Kind of like the tail wagging the dog.  This establishes the dangerous tyranny of the minority and imprisons the thinking and voice of the majority.  How many cases of this happening today can you think of?

Our so-called leaders, in their haste to displease no one, end up pleasing only a few.  We have no leader with a genuine opinion; we only have elected mutes who are paranoid about having their say for fear of a tirade of objections from a vocal minority.  They exclusively spew scripted party lines.  Political oneupmanship is the dominate modus operandi. For the majority of the country that was founded on Christian faith, we should be celebrating Christmas as the religious festival that it is and not the commercial binge that is taking over this most sacred time of year. 

Pat Salmon truly had a single purpose cause and it was called "Canada".  He wrote always in favor of his adopted country.  He demonstrated his love and did not care who knew it.  He believed that developed potential in this country is enormous if only the current populace would view the mass and not the molecule.

I'll let the words of Pat close out this post:

"I wish all readers a very Merry Christmas with Tidings of comfort and joy. It seems we have turned our backs on the Queen...Please don't try to shut out God.  We aren't that strong!"

17 December, 2015


I was having my usual cup of coffee over The Toronto Star one morning a few years ago. Flipping through the pages of the Entertainment/Living Section, a strangely familiar face starred back at me from behind a white beard on Page E6.

"Good God almighty...That's me!" I shouted out loud. I really could not believe my eyes, but "the eyes" behind a billowy white beard were the coincidental giveaway.

The photo (above clipping) of two children, one visibly upset, sitting on Santa Claus' lap, was included in a Star feature entitled "Holiday Histrionics: The Santa Sessions".

Clutching the newspaper page, I ran to my computer to bring up an almost identical photo of me as a Brampton City Centre Mall Santa Claus in 1990 with my granddaughter Alyssa sitting rather pensively on my lap (see photo below). No question about it -- a match! How unbelievable. How absolutely magical. What are the chances?

The caption accompanying the 25-year-old photo, told the story: Heading: "In the twinkling of an eye, a Christmas photo shot can turn upside down as Star readers prove -- and generously share with their pictures..."

The story went on to explain that Little Adriana Lawrence was calm until she turned to look at Santa. "You might as well take the picture, whether she screams or not," said grandmother Maureen Lawrence of Brampton, who took the baby with her brother Peter, 3, to meet the mall Santa in 1990. " Dressed in Christmas outfits, the kids were quiet until Adriana turned to see St. Nick, and that was it -- she just bawled and bawled." (Believe it or not, I remember the scene and the little girl's big brown eyes looking up at me before she broke out in screams of terror. I tend to have that affect on women, even when I'm not wearing a beard.) Mrs. Lawrence, a retired nurse, described it as "a treasure picture." Adriana, 20, and brother Peter, 21, were college students when the flashback photo appeared in The Star.

Twenty-five Christmases later, my granddaughter Alyssa, 26, is a business office manager about to be married this coming spring.  Adriana and Peter are, likewise, no doubt firmly entrenched in careers of their own.

Oh yes...About the eyes: As a Santa, I tried to be as authentic as possible and always painted my eyebrows white to match the beard. My special eyebrow makeup? I used Whiteout correctional fluid which was unmistakable in the Star photo, as it was in my scrapbook photo with Alyssa. 

I attempted to contact Mrs. Lawrence to let her know how much she had pleasantly surprised this old pretend mall Santa and followed up with a letter to The Star, but did not hear back from her.

Photo of Lyssie and Santa Me appears in my book Wrights Lane: Come
On In, accompanying a story "The Magic of Playing Santa Claus."

15 December, 2015


What would the arrival of another New Year be without a few words about resolutions from the old Wrighter? 

Here is a list of the top 10 New Years resolutions for 2016...You know, you've probably made and broken every one of them yourself over the years:

1 -- Lose Weight

2 -- Getting Organized

3 -- Spend Less, Save More

4 -- Enjoy Life to the Fullest

5 -- Staying Fit and Healthy

6 -- Learn Something Exciting

7 -- Quit Smoking

8 -- Help Others in Their Dreams

9 -- Fall in Love

10 -- Spend More Time with Family

Now consider the following statistics on New Years resolutions.

-- Percent of those who usually make New Year’s Resolutions -- 45%

-- Percent of those who infrequently make New Year’s Resolutions -- 17%

-- Percent of  individuals who absolutely never make New Year’s Resolutions -- 38%

-- Percent of people who are successful in achieving their resolution -- 8%

-- Percent of those who have infrequent success -- 49%

-- Percent who never succeed and fail on their resolution each year -- 24%

-- People who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t explicitly make resolutions.

Rather revealing data, don't you think?

It’s well known that New Year’s resolutions don’t have a high success rate. While many people opt to ditch the annual goal-setting event, about 40 to 45 percent of adults set at least one resolution come New Year’s. Unfortunately for many, the results turn into a pattern: January 1, we start off determined to follow through on our goals. Excited and energized, we think that this year will be different from the last, when our resolutions went by the wayside. But come February or even mid-January, the majority of us have abandoned our goals altogether.

So why do we continue to make resolutions every year even though so few of us follow through?  One reason is the allure of starting from scratch. I suspect that the beginning of the year offers a fresh start and a clean slate. The idea of bettering ourselves is another motivator. “Most of us have a natural bent toward self-improvement,” said John Duffy, Ph.D, clinical psychologist and author of The Available Parent: Radical Optimism in Raising Teens and Tweens. And even though the New Year is an arbitrary date, Duffy explained that it “gives us time and a goal date to prepare for the change, to fire up for the shifts we plan to make.”

Moreover, it may have something to do with “Tradition! Tradition! Tradition,” as the characters in the musical Fiddler On The Roof famously sing. Setting New Year’s resolutions is believed to go as far back as Babylonian times. It’s said that Julius Caesar started the tradition of making resolutions on January 1st as a way to honor the Roman mythical god Janus, whose two faces allowed him to look back into the past year and forward to the new year. Romans mostly made morality-based resolutions, such as seeking forgiveness from their enemies.

To my way of thinking, wanting to make resolutions is a good thing. The fact that people keep making resolutions even when they don’t always follow through ultimately means that they have hope and a certain level of belief in their ability to change and be more of who they really want to be.

Some research confirms that setting a resolution can get you closer to your goals. One study found that 46 percent of individuals who made resolutions were successful compared to four percent who wanted to achieve a certain goal and considered it but didn’t actually create a resolution.

So, statistics aside, go ahead and make some New Years resolutions in the next few weeks. Who knows, for once you may actually keep at least one of them if you are sufficiently motivated. If you don't, at least your intentions were good. Nothing ventured nothing gained!

And there's always a new year in another 12 months.

08 December, 2015


"...IT WAS MY RANT, I didn't need your intelligence & logic, facts & figures. If I do, I'll ask you."

We talk a lot about freedoms and rights these days. Well, here is the newest one -- the perceived freedom, yes the very right, to "rant" on Facebook...a rant meaning to speak or write in an angry or emotionally charged manner; rave. 2. To express at length a complaint or negative opinion.

Sadly, all-to-often even well-intended and perfectly rational social media network posts can be labeled a "rant' by anyone wishing to belittle or demean the contributor for some biased or mean-spirited reason.

It’s not hard to mistake the Internet rant, often characterized by its run-on sentences, uncouth and inflammatory remarks, capital letters and liberal use of the exclamation point. Often rooted in a heightened level of expressed emotion, uncensored anger or frustration, the rant is accessible to anyone armed with a computer keyboard and an Internet connection.

It is my recent observation that dispensers of bonafide "rants" on Facebook are adopting a strange pride in authorship that absolutely rejects or resents anything other than a "like" from friends subjected to the emotional outburst. Heaven help anyone countering with balanced dialogue or suggestions on how to rationalize the irksome tale of woe. It's as if people want to bath in the misery of their negative rantings and resultantly they drag others along with them.

Unsubstantiated rants generally end up reflecting poorly on the ranter and upsetting readers, in retrospect accomplishing very little of a positive nature.

When a friend writes a Facebook rant it is as if they are vomiting, quite deliberately, all over your day, states novelist and Huffington Post contributor Lucy Robinson. It starts like this:

"I'm sorry but . . .

And it ends like this:

..Right. Rant over!!!"

"The 'Rant over' is, in many ways, more offensive even than the rant itself," Robinson contends. "'Rant over' says I know! I know I just vomited all over you without asking your permission, but I've finished now and have gone back to being a really great person! You'll still like me, won't you? WON'T YOU?"

"No, actually, I won't," she adds. "Not for a while. You've just used me and several hundred other people as unpaid therapists...And now -- don't you dare deny it -- you're logging back on every five minutes to see if anyone's clicked LIKE or, better still, written something like, "Go girl! Totally agree!"

Believe it or not, the italicized quotation at the top of this post was part of a reactionary response to me today after I had attempted to rationalize a troublesome social issue (would you believe use of the Merry Christmas salutation) for a Facebook friend. As laughable and convoluted as it was, she wanted no part of my "intelligence and logic, facts and figures." It was her rant and she didn't want to hear anything from me, thank you very much! She did not welcome reasoned comment that may detract from the impact(?) of her tangent.  In the process of getting back at me for having the audacity to give her the benefit of my thoughts, she has lost me as a friend.

When I established a Facebook friendship with this middle-aged woman several years ago, we had a mutual interest in nostalgia and I reflected with fondness my memories of the home in which she now lives.  We exchanged frequent pleasantries and Facebook likes.  I offered support when she shared some timeline anxiety in her personal life, just as any friend would do.  Suddenly, the worm began to turn and her personality changed as she began to express herself in the form of posts which she herself referred to as "rants".  Much to my disappointment, the mistake I made was to continue talking to her as if she was a friend in real life.  Her mistake was having a closed mind, wanting to keep her emotional outburst to herself and not respecting my thoughts and the information I was providing in good faith and for her benefit.

On another occasion an old school friend (again a member of the opposite sex) accused me of being "impertinent" in imposing myself on her timeline rant about Middle East injustices.  Her emotional rebuttal was very personal and nothing short of vicious. Any wonder I am disenchanted with Facebook?

Like Lucy Robinson, I understand that life can be unbearably hard at times. For you, and me, and the millions of people living in varying states of famine and war. And I think the Internet is a wonderful tool for expressing that hardship; for giving a voice to those once silenced. Justified protest, expressed maturely and in the right media, is one of the great triumphs of the digital age. So too is the promotion of humane causes and the sharing of inspirational thoughts and good news stories that may otherwise get lost in the shuffle of everyday life.

But there is very definitely an unhealthy component to Internet ranting.  Research has shown that the emotional relief from getting a rant off your chest is only temporary. People experience a downward shift in mood after reading rants, and after writing rants they become more angry, not less.

Also from research: ranting is linked to fighting, both physically and verbally. By surveying visitors of rant sites, researchers found that those who rant online are more likely to experience consequences of their anger in the real world, averaging nearly one physical fight per month and more than two verbal fights per month.

So come on folks, resist the urge to rant just for the sake of venting.  If you have something that is bothering you, try to find answers for yourself first before commenting about it on Facebook.  Ask for input from others if you wish and welcome feedback.  Take time to research your issue and to consider the viability of other opinions.  Do some personal reasoning and soul-searching and then share your findings with friends in the form of a Facebook essay...Maybe we can all learn something from your experience...In so doing you will come away from the exercise with a feeling of lasting gratification that no rant could ever provide. 

The world feels very different when you start taking responsibility for your experience of it, rather than being a victim of it. That's the way I see it, anyway!  But maybe I'm confusing the issue with facts and logic.

After nearly 78 years I am coming to the conclusion that there is no accounting for some people...Why try?

06 December, 2015


Ever wonder about the origin of the salutation "Merry Christmas"?

"A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You" was the verse that was shown on the first commercially available Christmas card in 1843. Christmases had been merry long before that though. The use of 'Merry Christmas' as a seasonal salutation dates back to at least 1534, when, on 22nd December, John Fisher wished the season's greetings in a letter to Thomas Cromwell, recorded in Strype Ecclesiastical memorials, 1816):

And this our Lord God send you a mery Christmas, and a comfortable, to your heart’s desire.

The year 1843 was the date of the publication of Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol and it was around that time, in the early part of the reign of Queen Victoria, that Christmas as we now know it was largely invented. The word merry was then beginning to take on its current meaning of 'jovial, and outgoing' (and, let's face it, probably mildly intoxicated). Prior to that, in the times when other 'merry' phrases were coined, for example, make merry (circa 1300), Merry England (circa 1400) and the merry month of May (1560s), merry had a different meaning, that is, 'pleasant, peaceful and agreeable'.

That change in meaning was apparently viewed with disfavour by Queen Elizabeth II, who wished her subjects a 'happy' rather than 'merry' Christmas in her annual Christmas broadcasts. The idea of a modern-day merry England was presumably unwelcome at the palace.

The best-known allusion to merriment at Christmas is the English carol "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen." The source of this piece isn't known. It was first published in William Sandys' Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern in 1833, although versions of it probably existed as a folk-song and tune well before that but weren't written down. Sir Thomas Elyot, listed the phrase 'rest you merry' in his Dictionary in 1548:

"Aye, bee thou gladde: or joyfull, as the vulgare people saie Reste you mery."It is often assumed that the carol's lyric portrays the wish that jovial gentlemen might enjoy repose and tranquility. The punctuation of the song suggests otherwise though -- it's 'God rest ye merry, gentlemen', not 'God rest ye, merry gentlemen'. In this context 'to rest' doesn't mean 'to repose' but 'to keep, or remain as you are' - like the 'rest' in 'rest assured'.

'Rest ye merry' means 'remain peacefully content' and the carol contains the wish that God should grant that favour to gentlemen (gentlewomen were presumably busy in the kitchen). It isn't the 'rest' that is being given but the 'merry'. Anyone misreading that comma is in good company though. God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen was the carol that Dickens was referring to in "A Christmas Carol":

"The owner of one scant young nose, gnawed and mumbled by the hungry cold as bones are gnawed by dogs, stooped down at Scrooge's keyhole to regale him with a Christmas carol: but at the first sound of "God bless you, merry gentleman! May nothing you dismay!" 
Scrooge seized the ruler with such energy of action that the singer fled in terror."

Sadly, Scrooges exist to this day but we won't let them deter us from wishing each other a "Merry Christmas"...Will we?!

The dates of Christmas and Epiphany may well have resulted from Christian theological reflection on such chronologies: Jesus would have been conceived on the same date he died, and born nine months later. In the end we are left with a question: How did December 25 become Christmas? We cannot be entirely sure. Elements of the festival that developed from the fourth century until modern times may well derive from pagan traditions. Yet the actual date might really derive more from Judaism—from Jesus’ death at Passover, and from the rabbinic notion that great things might be expected, again and again, at the same time of the year—than from paganism. Then again, in this notion of cycles and the return of God’s redemption, we may perhaps also be touching upon something that the pagan Romans who celebrated Sol Invictus, and many other peoples since, would have understood and claimed for their own, too.