Friday, July 28, 2017

The Happy Curmudgeon: Healing the Sores

Angel Wings: 1:22
“Happy is the man…”

“The lost dog who sleeps on a bed of rags
behind the garage won’t appear
to beg for anything. Nothing will explain
where the birds have gone, why a wind rages
through the ash trees, why the world
goes on accepting more and more rain.”
Philip Levine [1928–2015],
Rain in Winter” (2016)

In pairs,
as if to illustrate their sisterhood,
the sisters pace the hospital garden walks.
In their robes black and white immaculate hoods
they are like birds,
the safe domestic fowl of the House of God.

O biblic birds, who fluttered to me in my childhood illnesses
—me little, afraid, ill, not of your race, —
the cool wing for my fever, the hovering solace,
the sense of angels—
be thanked, O plumage of paradise, be praised.
—A.M. Klein [1909–1972], 

There is much to be said and found in the poetry of A.M. Klein, a Canadian poet but more of a Montrealer as I am one (since the city is so instrumental in forming the man), whose use of religious imagery make us acutely aware of earthly concerns, including those of place and identity. Much of the politics of identity that we are witnessing today comes from a place of hurt, and more often than not is a result of many unhealed sores that inflict people’s souls, taking away their sense of  self, their very dignity.

Much of the anger evident today comes from this place of humiliation; anger is a response to loss of belief, a sense of betrayal, to thoughts that “no one cares.” Belief leads to hope. And real hope as it implies can never be an abstract idea; it must be taken as real and robust. Someone should care; even if most don’t; someone with a sense of righteousness and the ability to do something should care. I recommend also the reading of Philip Levine, an American poet born during the Great Depression, and who never forgot the past and the importance of giving voice to the voiceless. Building life.

Toronto is an expensive city in which to live, and our money does not purchase much in the way of comfort. It is more American than Canadian (“Toronto is a kind of New York operated by the Swiss,” actor Peter Ustinov said of the city’s efficiency in a Globe & Mail interview (August 1, 1987)). Even if the actor meant it as a compliment, it sounds as if he was damning with faint praise the city. After all, Toronto has neither the charm nor the beauty of Montreal, yet for now I remain here, looking for signs of renewal and redemption, for a softening of the ground.

As an outsider, as one living in exile, I have witnessed many incidents of humiliation and this is one of those things that having lived it, you wish with deepest desire to escape. Writing provides an intellectual and an emotional space, a place to work out the sacred vision, but it does not contribute in my case to any significant secular means of provision. Upward mobility is a chimera, a winged creature that falls to the grounds, never taking flight, never cooling the wrinkled brows of failed dreams and broken crowns.

Lack of success (in many cases) has nothing to do with lack of trying or lack of willpower. That’s only in Hollywood movies, where the pep talk leads to success. I wish this were true, but it’s not. Neither is getting a good education, or having years of work experience, or knowledge or intelligence or being a decent guy; the facts are all there to see. One or two losses (job, house, health, etc.) can set you back indefinitely; three or four will set you back even longer. The problems are much deeper and much wider than even the media know or report, although admittedly the media manage to do a good job in telling such stories.

No, I don’t fault the government, since Canada provides a generous and comprehensive social safety net and this safety net remains in place no matter the political party in power. (There is no guarantee, however, that this can’t change.) No, the fault lies elsewhere, deriving from a certain ethos that predominates south of the Canadian border, one that has infiltrated and infused our thinking with malevolent intentions.

An ethos that takes delight in violence and hostility; an ethos that thrives on disorder and chaos, an ethos that operates on lies and deceptions. An ethos that gives license for the rich to exploit the poor, thus uplifting higher only the few that require no uplifting. All for the love of money–a love of so deep a devotion that it causes a multitude of others so much pain and suffering, so much humiliation and anger. So many places venerate the dumb gods of materialism and consumerism, in keeping with their spiritual denudation.

There is no other word to describe this ethos of selfishness and greed than “cruel.” This is a gross failure of understanding, hiding behind policy and political trickery so as to not appear cruel. But cruelty is cruelty, no matter how you slice it or pretend otherwise. The solution to pain and suffering is not more pain and suffering; yet, this is what some think and do. They are cruel men and women, unlike the “Sisters of the Hotel Dieu.” If you have walked in such shoes for only a while, you will understand. The sores are painful; the scabs are formed on top of the old ones.

This is what I have been writing about the last seven years; and now I am screaming. My voice is raw and now it hurts. I can't continue to scream. Others must now keep on writing, so as to protect the values that we care about, protecting society’s most vulnerable, including the land under our feet, and holding on to a religious belief that values social good and common good—a religion that doesn’t benefit or bank on the accumulation of cruelty. A religion that improves the human condition, that uplifts people and gives them dignity and hope is the only faith that anyone should consider. Religion needs to remember what its ultimate purpose is for us.

A devotion to goodness, love and truth; a devotion to healing the sores.