Change without and within

viaduct

Photo property of Iejano (www.flickr.com/photos/lejano/). Used without permission but undying appreciation.

There is a bridge that crosses Toronto’s Don River—the Queen Street Viaduct—that is itself bridged by an arch inscribed with the message:

“This river I step in is not the river I stand in”

The sentiment, I have learned, is an adaptation of the teachings of Heraclitus as handed down in Plato’s Cratylus:

“Everything changes and nothing stands still. You could not step into the same river twice.”

It is a concept that I have come to embrace deeply through my many walks around and across Toronto, my camera firmly planted in front of my face.

Although I regularly seek new routes to follow in the hopes of discovering previously unknown treasures (at least unknown to me), I also revisit well-trodden routes to explore the changes that occur from visit to visit.

As Heraclitus suggested, our world is one of constant transformation if we but seek to see it.

Every nature walk brings me new species of plants and animals to photograph and opportunities to better appreciate the ones I see regularly.

Every lane way and alley along the grid of thoroughfares that cross my city, offer me windows into the temperments of street artists and social commentators who splash their messages and visions on every surface in dazzling colour.

Grime

These displays and their constant revision is one of the reasons why I will never be bored on any of my walks. But there is another reason that resonates within me much more deeply.

I am constantly changing.

Just as Heraclitus suggested that the river flows and so is not the same from one minute to the next, my life and my experiences continually flow and so I do not greet my world in the same way from one minute to the next.

The same yellow warbler might sit on exactly the same branch at the same time tomorrow and I might never see it. And even if I did, I would appreciate it in a completely different manner for reasons I cannot begin to fathom and recount today.

Yellow warbler

Every experience—regardless of whether I am conscious of it—changes me and influences how I frame and absorb my universe. Acknowledging that helps ensure that I am open to all of these new experiences within supposedly familiar ground.

Thus, to paraphrase the Queen Street Viaduct:

“These eyes I look with are not the eyes I see with”

Believing this, I live in an amazing world and embrace every moment for its wonder.

Authenticity

who-is-this

This election is about authenticity.

Michelle Obama’s speech resonated with so many people because she was the most authentic person on stage.

There seems to be a great need in the world for people to be authentic, to be honest about their needs and desires, hopes and dreams.

His word is his bond.

What you see is what you get.

I work every day to be an honest practitioner of me, and yet, it continues to be a struggle if only because I do not yet know who I am.

In my defense, however, I never had a fighting chance, because from our earliest days, Western society impels us to fit into molds.

In school, we are taught to behave in a specific manner; to sit in regimented rows and speak only when spoken to. Our excellence is constantly measured against that of our peers on a scale that doesn’t really seem to prepare us for anything except more of same.

When we find employment, we are slotted into roles beyond which it is counterproductive to stray. We are hemmed in by job descriptions and told not to get above our station. To strive for something bigger is to earn the threatened enmity of our “superiors”, as well as our supposed equals.

set-de-moules-pour-personnages-pme

More often than not, to break from our confines and achieve improvement let alone greatness is to go it alone; to be ostracized from our fellows. And even in achieving something, there is a vast pool of people waiting for you to fail, snapping at your heels, if only to validate their decisions not to strive.

And while I find that sad—and admit to having wallowed in that group myself—I cannot blame these people for feeling, thinking and behaving in this manner. They, like I, bought the lie that if we behaved ourselves, if we followed the rules, if we lay our souls down to society, to industry, to community, we would be taken care of, we would be protected.

The lie is crumbling, however. It is becoming more difficult to not see beyond the façade. To remain blind is becoming increasingly difficult even for the most determined.

Children are graduating from school to find nothing awaiting them. Get your high school diploma; get your Bachelor’s degree; get a graduate degree. The bar keeps moving if only to delay arrival at the precipice, an abyss that grows deeper with every tuition payment.

Middle-aged and older employees who remained bound to a company, addicted to seniority, pensions and steady salary, are suddenly finding themselves cut loose after 15, 20, 25 years and staring back at a ravenous pack of un- and underemployed juniors—local and international—willing to work for lower wages.

In many ways, these poor souls are the victims of the very investment portfolios and pension funds they fought so hard to build, stakeholder groups that demand increasing returns with little concern for how companies achieve those returns.

lockedgate

And so the cry goes up for politicians and administrators and executives to be more authentic, to be more honest with those they oversee, to live up to their promises.

We point vehemently to the walls of the molds into which we poured our lives as though they were legally, morally and ethically binding contracts, and implore others to save our lives.

And as has happened in every decade that preceded this one, we will fail and we will fall as institutions redefine and reconstruct themselves on the old models.

The same hue and cry that triggered the Reformation and the Renaissance also triggered the Inquisition and Fascist Europe.

What I have come to believe is that I cannot change the world. Rather, I can only change me or perhaps more correctly, stop changing me. The person who needs to be authentic, to be honest, to live up to promises is the one I see in the mirror; he is me.

Rather than distort myself to fit boxes constructed by society and its micro-collectives in the mistaken belief that this will keep me safe, I need to risk all and not only discover who I am, but also express that person to the world.

My first steps to do just this have been awkward and timorous. It is uncharted territory and demands a certain amount of trial-and-error.

But as I continue to move toward authenticity, I am finding the footing firmer. Dirt-grasping shuffles are becoming steps, and will hopefully one day be strides.

And whereas society is not always welcoming of my decision, I have been lucky enough to find that the people in my life have been almost universally supportive.

It is unlikely that I will change the world, but it is a certainty that I will change my world.

And if I am authentic, that is enough.

authentic

Floater

grey waves

Terry’s biggest fear was pain. He had a particularly low threshold for it, and so the thought of his limbs bashing against the rocks had brought a clammy sweat to his palms.

Turns out, he was worried about nothing.

After the initial crunch of what used to be his left knee cap, the free rotation of his leg really didn’t hurt. Rather, it was more of a surreal distraction.

What actually bothered Terry was the unquenchable cold, as wave after wave of grey water sponged the heat from his flailing limbs.

Winter had come early to the Scarborough bluffs, and despite being well into April, showed no signs of releasing its crystalline grip on the world. More than one chunk of ice from the nearby shore added insult to stony injury as Terry rolled with the currents, thrown tantalizingly close to the pebbled beach only to be unceremoniously tugged back to the depths.

(Photo property of Gail Shotlander Photography)

(Photo property of Gail Shotlander Photography)

To all outward appearance, Terry was as lifeless as the shredded plastic bags that clung to his limbs as their paths crossed. Even the gulls had stopped their surveillance, his constant mobility keeping them from determining his potential as food.

Terry didn’t thrash. Nor did he scream.

What his lost will to live couldn’t achieve, the water completed as his body involuntarily pulled muscle-activating blood from his extremities, its focus completely on preserving his heart and mind. Ironically, these were the two things that first failed Terry.

In the grey waters under a grey sky, tumbling mindlessly with wave and wind, Terry knew his death was just a matter of time.

And oddly, for the first time in his life, Terry had all the time in the world.

The Maples – A short story

Center Bar

“The maples?”

“Still there,” Lucy smiled. “They look like hell, but they’re there.”

“I thought the hurricane took everything out,” Jeremy replied.

“Actually, the ice storm in February did the most damage. About half the trees split at the trunk, so the whole copse leans to the left.”

Jeremy smiled at her, eyes alight.

“What?”

“The whole ‘copse’?” he teased.

She slapped his arm, causing his rye and coke to splatter. She mopped the mess with her napkin as he licked the alcohol from his fingers.

“Well, it’s hardly a forest. There are what? Twenty trees?”

“Sounds right, from what I remember.”

Lucy sipped at her straw, taking in the new Jeremy as she took in her iced tea. He had come a long way from the torn jeans and sleeveless sweatshirt she remembered from school.

Truth be told, she too was a long way from the matching couture of her younger days, knock-off Gucci and Prada long replaced by Mommy and Dadda.

“So, what kind of law?” she asked.

“Corporate mostly,” he said. “M&As, takeovers, trusts.”

“A real-life Gordon Gecko!”

He laughed.

“Nothing that sexy. No Darryl Hannahs in my life. Although, I am okay with greed…within reason.”

“Still. New York City.”

“Might as well be Albuquerque for all I get to see the city,” he replied. “Most days, I sit in boardrooms watching people talk to tape recorders and then reading transcripts of the same conversation to verify the transcriptionist isn’t an idiot or deaf.”

Lucy rolled her eyes.

“Seriously, if I wasn’t charging $750 an hour to play Tetris, I’d go back to bicycle repair.”

Lucy’s eyes widened.

“I’m sorry. I should have said anything about the money. Sounds like I’m bragging.”

“Bragging?” Lucy repeated. “Surprised you’re not standing on the bar, crowing.”

Jeremy’s smile faded, triggering a flicker of self-consciousness in Lucy. She put her hand on his.

“Tell you what, you can buy the drinks,” she said, trying to make light of it all.

He smiled, and they fell silent for a moment.

Jeremy swished the ice around in his glass, attracting the bartender’s attention. Jeremy shook his head at him.

“So, two kids,” Jeremy finally managed.

“Yes, boy and a girl,” Lucy said, jumping at the change in conversation. “As well as three dogs, a cat and a goldfish that just won’t die. Don’t believe them when they tell you goldfish have the lifespan of a toilet flush.”

“That’s quite the menagerie,” Jeremy responded. “You hear about a big rain storm I should know about?”

“No,” Lucy giggled. “Besides, Dave would look terrible in the long white beard.”

“Your husband?”

“Yeah,” she replied. “Has a John Deere dealership in town. He’s stable.”

“Stable?” Jeremy chuckled. “Not the most ringing endorsement I’ve ever heard.”

Now it was Lucy’s turn to go quiet, adjusting her jacket below the bar.

“I’m sorry,” Jeremy interjected. “That came out totally wrong.”

“No, it’s okay,” Lucy replied softly. “And you’re right.”

Lucy poked at her ice cubes, searching her thoughts for her next words, as Jeremy waited. Something told him, she was actually glad to talk about this.

“Dave’s a good man. A good father,” she explained, adding quickly, “And husband!”

Another moment of silence.

“The best man I could ask for…in Bedford”

Jeremy waited. Lucy would continue when she was ready.

“I don’t know. Maybe I expected too much after high school…” she faded off into her own world.

Finally looking up, Lucy realized Jeremy was watching her, eyes full of concern. She laughed at herself.

“I’m babbling,” she blurted. “Life is good. Great. Really.”

A wistful smile migrated across Jeremy’s face.

“We all have skeletons, eh?”

“And some of them come with mortgage payments.”

“Attention passengers of US Airways flight 7783 to New York. We are now boarding executive and elite status members at Gate 61.”

Jeremy removed his boarding pass from his pocket and threw a $20 bill on the bar.

“Sounds like that’s my cue,” he said, rising to his feet.

Lucy stood, giving him a quick hug, which he returned, not releasing her right away.

“Good seeing you, again.”

“You, too,” Jeremy replied. “Give my best to Bedford.”

Lucy remounted her bar stool as Jeremy grabbed his bag and headed toward the concourse.

“Hey Jeremy,” Lucy called across the bar.

Jeremy turned back, confused.

“I didn’t think you liked me.”

Jeremy smiled and winked.

“I didn’t,” he laughed. “I like this you much better.”

Lucy blushed as he dissolved into the crowd.

 

(Image is property of owner and is used here without permission because I had to fly.)