Saturday, 28 July 2012

Out another door — a meditation on a dream

My body left the hospital for a coffin and a grave.

You crossed the threshold back to life

and left by another door.

You carried a vase for flowers

opalescent blue and elegant,

empty save for a little water.

It puzzled you there were no flowers,

but consider what is in that vase:

My tears are there.

You bear my tears.

They are for you.

I was afraid of too much happiness,

but you were my container in life.

You held my sorrows.

Now you are carrying the tears I shed

while I was dying,  missing you:

Not a nice miss, not this one.

And now, what should you do

in this parking lot on the bare pavement

outside the institutional doors?

Just add your tears to mine.

Let us weep together the many colours of love and loss:

The blue, pink, white and yellow,

a play of colours,

waiting for roses.

And when the tears dry,

go to my grave,

gather my dust,

and treasure it.

Lorna Harris July 27, 2012

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Golf, breakfast, famous people, and sex ― or not

Having recently read Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending and feeling it was one of my better book encounters in 2012, I decided to revisit  A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters. It turns out I did not fully appreciate it when I read it the first time ― about 20 years ago.  I thought I was quite intelligent back then, but I guess I was wrong: so much escaped me in my forties.

Anyhow, being moved by something you read is often the product of the state of mind you’re in when reading the book. Where you find energy in the book is often where it is in yourself. And in re-reading Barnes’s earlier work, I was taken with the half-chapter entitled “Parenthesis,” a meditation on love, as well as with the tenth chapter, entitled “The Dream.”

In that sardonic final chapter, a man gradually finds himself bored to death in Heaven.  Two angelic messengers (pardon the repetition ― assuming there is one) instruct him about his situation. It seems there are two groups in Heaven. One consists of those who want to spend it with God, but their numbers are declining ― alongside the definition of what constitutes a good time there. The other consists of those for whom heaven is whatever they want it to be.  It’s a toss-up between eternal praise to their Creator for the one group, and eternal rounds of golf, breakfast, famous people, and sex, at least for the protagonist.

It got me thinking of what I would wish for in Heaven or put another way, what would be Heaven for me. It’s not that I don’t like golf, sex and breakfast, well actually, I have no interest in golf, but the idea of its being heavenly to do anything one pleases didn’t particularly appeal to me over the long haul.  Eventually, yes, it would get boring ― like chalking up the number of books one has read in a given year. After a while, so what!

And I am not sure about the conventional religious view ― blinding light, choirs of angels and endless praise. For an introvert like myself, it seems overwhelmingly brilliant and too noisy, but then I am seeing it from the outside as it were. From the inside, it could be what the ecstatic union with “what is” feels like, rather than an actual place full of choirs and jewels located somewhere up there for us after we die; sadly, the literalists seem to have won the day in insisting upon the latter configuration rather than the former.

Barnes is not all that far off the mark when he says, “Religion has become wimpishly workaday, or terminally crazy, or merely businesslike ― confusing spirituality with charitable donations.” Some would say having any sense of Heaven is terminally crazy.

But nevertheless, I wonder what would sustain me over eternity?  The other night, plagued by insomnia, I had a personal whine-fest about 4:00 a.m., in which I mulled over how often I feel forgotten: the Mother’s Days and birthdays gone unheeded, the reneged lunches not re-booked, the parties not invited to, the omission from photos everyone else is in.  And while I confess to this self-indulgent whining, nevertheless it hurts to be on the receiving end of ― nothing.

I expect I am not the only one who from time to time feels forgotten.  One of my Facebook friends posted this plea on his wall recently:

Good morning wonderful family members today is Aunt E’s 93rd birthday, can you all take a minute to give her a call, she will tell me that she has heard from no one in and hugs

Now even if Aunt E is totally forgetful and her relatives do call every day, she fears she will be forgotten and that is what is important, especially as you grow older: the sense that no one wants to remember you. Hence, I suppose, the popularity of grave markers, and not just for the family genealogist.

The urgent plea for personal remembering occurs over and over in our culture. Sarah McLachlan sings, “I will remember you. Will you remember me?”   Hamlet’s father’s ghost intones, “Remember me.”  Christina Rossetti asks only that her reader should “remember me when I am gone away, Gone far away into the silent land …”

In September 1914, Laurence Binyon wrote of his battlefield comrades in a poem called For the Fallen, “At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we shall remember them.”  One of the most poignant parts of Remembrance Day is reading the names of the fallen soldiers.

Similarly in some churches (I’m thinking here of St. Thomas’s Anglican in Toronto), a list of the souls departed from the parish is spoken on All Souls’ Day. It may seem interminable until people you love have died, and you hear their names read from that list: they are remembered.

To be held in someone’s memory is a powerful comfort. At the crucifixion, the one thief asks Jesus only to “remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” Jesus answers, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”  Being re-membered is being put together again: reconnected and present with the essence of life. And many Christians reciprocate by participating in communion for “the remembrance of Me.”

I’m not about to make any claims for the existence of a literal Heaven nor am I about to debunk the idea. But I am ruminating on what is means to be remembered, for as Laurence Binyon’s poem continues, if the dead are remembered, whether by their human survivors, or by the energy of the universe, or by God, it is as if 

To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;
And the converse is also true, if we are not remembered while we live, we are as good as dead.  

I sometimes think that in remembering and being remembered, we are in something analogous to that eternal presence of Love, which, like the Higgs boson, makes everything matter (yes, pun intended).

Golf, breakfast, famous people, and sex ― or not

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

You can rip, but you can't burn

Learning by experience is supposed to be the best way, according to a lot of people from Aristotle forward. Tacitus was succinct: Experientia docuit. But he was talking about extracting bitumen from a lake.  Based on the experience I underwent over the last couple of days, I would say little known American humourist Josh Billings was more accurate when he said, “Experience is a grindstone; and it is lucky for us, if we can get brightened by it and not ground.” Right now, I feel slightly ground; I may feel brightened later.

About fifteen years ago that I decided I had had enough learning experiences to last a lifetime. What I did not foresee, however, was the march of computer technology. Undaunted, I recently learned how to rip CDs. Based on the ease of that experience, I blithely decided to burn a music CD for my grandson’s fifth birthday. I chose the pieces from the CDs I had already ripped onto my laptop.

Soon, I had a playlist ready to burn. This shouldn’t be hard, I thought, since there was the Burn tab at the top of the screen. I put my blank disc into the DVD player, but when I hit the tab, nothing happened except for a message telling me to put in a blank disc. Undaunted I did it again:  same result (there is a cliché about this kind of behaviour, but it escapes me for the moment).

After consultation with the resident computer guru, we decided the best thing was to call the helpful people at Lenovo. After choosing English, I was faced with a number of other options, none of which seemed to quite fit my dilemma, so I chose the first one and figured they could transfer me to the right person if need be.
Shortly I was talking to a nice young man evidently called Chris. Before I could explain my problem, he needed to know a few things about my computer like when I bought it (last November), in whose name it was registered (Greg’s), and what was its serial number. Well, that stumped me. There were quite a few numbers across the top of the receipt, but none of them was what Chris was looking for. I began to feel like the character Judi Dench played in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel when her computer misbehaved and she called for help. Her desk was tidier than mine, however.
Chris suggested the number might be on the back of the computer. That meant not just turning it over but also turning it around, along with the mouse and DVD player. The electric cord became suspended alongside the phone cord.
And no, the number was not likely on the piece of sticky tape back there. Oh, try looking on the computer itself. Squinting to read, I could make out a column of numbers and yes, about halfway down in about font size 3.5 was “s/n.” Would that be it? Chris thought so. The problem was that even with my new upgraded bifocals, I couldn’t read it. 

I had to ask Chris if he could wait until I found my magnifying glass. I have a lovely pewter magnifying glass in the shape of a turtle, but it must have been hiding under the desk detritus. I remembered someone had given me a plastic magnifying glass thin enough to be kept in one’s wallet. I reached for my purse, and in doing so, I jerked the phone cord, and the base of the phone crashed to the floor.
Chris was unperturbed. I wasn’t quite so sanguine, as now I couldn’t open the hermetically sealed plastic covering the magifying glass until, with my free hand, I found a pair of scissors.

 Then I thought turning on a light might help. Finally I was able to read the tiny black print on the dark orange background. And yes, this computer matched Greg’s name. We were off to the races.

 To follow the example of Tacitus and be succinct, it turned out the problem was not with the computer or any of its ports. Chris had suggestions; I followed as best I could:  “You mean the port next the hinge?... “Just a sec, I need to reattach the mouse” … “ No, I don’t know what that port is for, because I’m not sure what those icons mean” …  “Oh, the one five in from the end” …  “Got it” …  “Now what?”
Chris advised me, after extensive further consultation with someone else, that the external HP DVD Drive  might embody the fatal flaw. I thanked him heartily and before we rang off, I asked him to repeat the serial number in case I ever needed it again. That was useful.

As much as I had enjoyed my chat with Chris, I decided to go to the Internet to find out about the DVD player. After putting the model number into Google, I discovered a web-site with a 98% happy customer service rate. There was someone with my very question about that pesky pop-up window. Then there was a list of instructions and if those didn’t work, there were more. When I got to “Uninstall,” I hesitated. Time to consult with Greg again before leaping into that unknown.
Last week, he had cavalierly accepted an offer to update some program, which had resulted in our apparently losing all our photos and our entire contact list. He then spent a very unhappy couple of days texting (his only choice, apparently) with three or four helpers at Windows. It got so intense I had to bring him lunch in his office both days. I didn’t want to repeat that.
Then we remembered the flash drive, transferred the playlist to it and copied it to a disc. Whew! To our dismay, however, none of the songs was in the right order. We numbered them ― still in the wrong order. Then I noticed they seemed to be in alphabetical order. We added the letters from A to J to the selections. It worked!!
But only too well. For some reason, the playlist copied itself three times over and then copied each selection alphabetically three times over. The original 47-minute playlist was now well over four hours. I decided I didn’t care. It would be handy not to have to hit repeat and if my grandson’s parents didn’t want more, they could always hit stop.

I thought I’d see how it sounded on our CD player the one separate from the computer. It didn’t sound at all! Nothing! This was another learning experience. Apparently not all CDs are made to work outside of computers. Guess which kind we had been using. Guess which was the only way the grandson’s family could play the CD.

Guess what I felt like doing.

Well, it was too far too the basement to get the hammer, so I considered other possibilities.  One involved asking for outside advice from my friend John who makes CD compilations annually at Christmas; in fact, it was his example I was following in burning a CD in the first place.

He suggested using iTunes. By this time, I was ready to accept any advice.

We bravely downloaded iTunes.  Now it only remained to transfer the playlist from Windows Media over to iTunes. It was lunch time again. I went to make egg salad sandwiches. Somehow, Greg got it to work. We had lunch together at the dining room table. It was pleasant.
Now all I had to do was to get the right CD. I search on the Staples site, found what I thought I needed, phoned the nearest Staples (in Strathroy) and talked to Melanie. Like Chris she consulted with someone else; we then concurred that the product I had chosen should fit the bill. And Staples has them in stock ― lots of them, according to Melanie.
We are going to pick them up around suppertime this evening.  Staples is open ‘til 8:00. (I checked). Then we will have dinner at Pizza Delight to celebrate the imminent and, of course, successful download. What can possibly go wrong now?