Edna’s 70th, Saints,Rap and #Metoo Moments

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I declare Edna White a saint. I do this without proper authority from God or the church, and with the realization that under the current laws of the church a person cannot officially be canonized a saint unless dead; in fear that they stumble into sin a second before they die.  But, Edna is very much alive and a saint. I should qualify this a little. All mothers who have had four or more children should be declared a saint. Edna has six children.

About sixty of us, family and friends, are gathered in the Club House Room, with hushed voices, to celebrate Edna’s 70th birthday. It’s a surprise party and the announcement has just been made, by her son, John jnr. that Edna is expected to arrive in 30 seconds. On cue Edna walks into the room, glass of white wine in hand, and looks on in bemusement at the crowd gathered. We erupt into a chorus of happy birthday and a sunny smile transforms her face as understanding dawns.  A line up quickly forms in front of Edna as people surge forward with their hugs, kisses and congratulations. Edna proceeds into the room and the crowd disperses into its various groups the noise level steadily increasing.

Edna’s parents were originally from P.E.I and moved to Chateauguay, Quebec where she met my brother John. John played for  the Chateauguay soccer team and Edna was part of a group of girls who would turn up to cheer the team on. It was love at first sight and they married just over a year later. They will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary next year.  I first met Edna in 1969 when I emigrated to Canada and was immediately charmed by her soft spoken and courteous manner. She is always there for her six children, and families, with unconditional love, and rarely refuses any request from them.

The noise level in the club house increased in intensity as people mingled. I soon found myself deep in conversation on hip hop, showing my ignorance  by asking the eternal question,what’s the difference between hip hop and rap. I explained I would probably like rap more if I understood the actual words that were being rapped. I was told that other people had reached the same conclusion, and were calling it mumble rap. It’s always gratifying when your views on modern music are ratified by someone two generations younger than you.

Time for birthday cake. Two cakes were carried in procession, regular and gluten free. Celeste, Edna’s ten year old granddaughter, started the refrains of happy birthday on the piano and we all joined in. This was followed by Celeste playing ‘The Sound of Silence’ and ‘Greensleeves while the cake was being cut and distributed. She is very, very good at playing the piano. I passed from group to group discussing current events and reminiscing on past events. After a while I felt a tug on my sleeve. My granddaughter was trying to get through to me that it was time to leave even though I had just got there.

So time to say goodbyes. I gave my niece a hug and she took my arm and said, let me introduce you to my boyfriend. As I approached her boy friend I was thinking shall I shake his hand or assume he will be part of the family and give him a hug. I assumed the latter. I was reaching out to give him a hug, when I noticed he was unsmiling and looked a little tense. I paused mid hug and thought is this my #metoo moment, am I invading his personal space, and tried my best to stop the hug. I succeeded in stopping about three inches from his body but I think my right arm might have brushed his shoulder. He gave me a benign smile and said , ” well, that was a little awkward” and we entered into a conversation on his Irish heritage, his grandparents were from Belfast. We then discussed a fish and chip shop where you caught your own fish to serve up at the meal. With my granddaughter again tugging at my arm I proceeded to meet the rest of the family at the exit.

Waiting in the lobby for my wife who had visited the washroom I struck up a conversation with the security guard sitting at his desk. I learned he was a Sikh from the Punjab but didn’t wear a turban because he made a choice to keep his hair short rather than long. He  had lived in Canada for two years with his wife and had two children, 6 and 8 years old, who were still in the Punjab with family. I wanted to delve deeper into his life in Canada but my wife appeared and we were ready to go.

Happy 70th birthday Saint Edna. Long may you reign.

My Irish Heritage

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Its St. Patrick’s Day and I’m listening, on my playlist, to the refrains of “The Field of Athenry” sung by Frank Patterson. I always spare time for quiet celebration, on this the holiest of drinking days, listening to Frank Patterson, Josef Locke, James Galway or John McCormack; the great Irish artists.  Taking another sip of Smithwicks I fondly remember my mother’s and great aunt’s Irish influence on my life.

Survival against the odds, the courage to follow your own path, the determination to never give up, the ability to find solutions where others only see problems and a sense of what’s important in life – these are the characteristics that for over 300 years have made Smithwick’s Ireland’s favourite brewer of ales.

My mother, was born in 1926 in Waterford, situated in the south east and the oldest city in the Republic of Ireland. Her father had moved there because of employment opportunities to be had from the fisheries. She was christened Catherine O’Dwyer but was known as Kit. At the age of nine, together with her brother John aged five,  she moved in with her aunt Kate O’Mahoney who lived ten kilometres away in Moolum, Kilkenny. My mother was always vague on the reasons for transferring households but her mother’s sister Kate was childless and it also probably helped my mother’s family financially. She told a story of being offered goats milk, daily on her walk to school, and throwing it away when she was out of sight. She later told me that her childhood on Moolum was the happiest time in her life, except for her children of course. At the age of fourteen she was reunited with her parents and moved to Stepney, London, England.  Her father had found employment as a brick layer. It was there she met my father, and they married when she was eighteen, she had six children, I was the second eldest.

I grew up under the influence of my mother as she was always around to guide and to scold as the occasion warranted. I attended St. Joseph’s convent school run by the Sisters of Mercy, a religious order founded in Dublin in 1831 by Catherine McAuley (1778-1841). Not to be confused with the ‘Sisters of Mercy’  song written by Leonard Cohen. The St. Patrick’s day concert performed by the school was the high light of the year. I would  line up behind other optimistic children to audition for the role of  conducting the choir who would sing McNamara’s Band. I almost made it one year, except I forgot some of the lines to the song and so failed the audition. Much like forgetting my rap lines in my granddaughter’s rap video.

Every year when school was out my mother would take all her children over to Ireland to visit Aunt Kate. Taking the train from London to Fishguard in Wales and then the ferry to Rosslare. Aunt Kate would be waiting for us at Rosslare with her ‘assen cart’, a cart pulled by two donkeys, blackman and greyman. Her house in Moolum was small, though the living quarters had been enlarged by converting the forge. My great uncle had been a blacksmith. There was no electricity, no running water and no toilet.  The fire was lit early in the morning and kept going all day, there was no cooking stove. I loved to work the bellows to spark the fire into life.  Every morning we would walk the half mile to the pump, carrying our buckets, to hold the water. There would be blackberries to pick on the bushes by the road and we would return home with purple fingers and lips. The farmer up on Moolum rock would stop by every morning in his horse and cart to offer me a lift to the creamery in Kilmacow. There he would pour his churns of cow’s milk into a large container. On the return home I would  be allowed to ride the horse bareback in the field . When darkness fell candles were lit. If we needed to do a No.1 we would go to the field, if a No.2 we would retire to the donkey’s shed ensuring that we picked the biggest leaves beforehand, for hygiene’s sake. Aunt Kate would allow me to go with her on her bread rounds twice a week.

Aunt Kate was known as the ‘Bread Woman’ or ‘Egg Woman’ to neighbours who primarily bought eggs from her or sold them to her. She got her bread supplies from Harney’s bakery in Kilmacow and would take the assen cart to deliver these supplies to her customers the same day each week no matter what the weather. Before my time the Moolum house was a ‘safe house’ for IRA members. Though as Aunt Kate told me, she didn’t hold with violence and would have none in the house, but she would not turn away anyone in trouble. In 2006, on the 90th anniversary of the Easter Uprising, there was a reunion in Kilmacow of men and woman who had been active republicans forty years prior and my mother was asked to lay the wreath on Aunt Kate’s grave. I hadn’t realized that Aunt Kate had been so famous an activist for the cause.

My mother moved back to that house in Moolum in 1991 when she was 65 and I visited her every year, only occasionally going back to visit England. I went to Ireland in March of 2016 for my mother’s 90th birthday and we celebrated her life in traditional Irish fashion and had a great time. Two months later I went back to Ireland for my mother’s funeral and we celebrated her life in traditional Irish fashion and had a great time. My heart has always been divided between Ireland and England despite my cockney accent. A mother’s influence is a powerful thing.

Song For Ireland

Walking all the day, near tall towers
Where falcons build their nests
Silver winged they fly
They know the call of freedom in their breasts
Saw Black Head against the sky
Where twisted rocks they run down to the sea
Living on your western shore
Saw summer sunsets, asked for more
I stood by your Atlantic sea
And sang a song for Ireland
Drinking all the day in old pubs
Where fiddlers love to play
Someone touched the bow
He played a reel
It seemed so fine and gay
Stood on Dingle beach
And cast in wild foam we found Atlantic bass
Living on your western shore
Saw summer sunsets asked for more
I stood by your Atlantic sea
And sang a song for Ireland
Talking all the day with true friends
Who try to make you stay
Telling jokes and news
Singing songs to pass the night away
Watched the Galway salmon run
Like silver dancing darting in the sun
Living on your western shore
Saw summer sunsets, asked for more
I stood by your Atlantic sea
And sang a song for Ireland
Dreaming in the night I saw a land
Where no man had to fight
Waking in your dawn
I saw you crying in the morning light
Lying where the falcons fly
They twist and turn all in you’er blue sky
Living on your western shore,
Saw summer sunsets asked for more
I stood by your Atlantic sea
And sang a song for Ireland

Songwriter: PHIL COLCLOUGH

Meditation-Day 1

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Meditation has always been understood, in the tradition, as an art. It is the art of all arts.-John Main, Benedictine Monk (1926-1982)

I am impulsive by nature. I never plan, never strategize and can only think one move ahead in chess.  For the last three years I have buried myself in fantasy and historical fiction, reading at least a book a week. Two weeks ago I read a blog on-line which led me to WordPress. On impulse I signed up for the basic membership and for the first time in my life, other than birthdays cards, Valentine cards and Christmas cards have started to write. To-day I have been struck by another impulse, to return to meditation. So combining the two impulses I have decided to write about meditation.

I have tried meditation before. In my teens I sought the serenity of church buildings. In my twenties I listened to the Christian music of  “Jesus Freaks” with their long hair and guitars. In my thirties I could work myself into ecstatic rapture and wondered why I was not carried body and soul into heaven. In my forties I took a two year yoga course which included one evening of meditation a week. In my fifties I became a little disillusioned, or was it boredom, and introduced myself to the mystic experiences that can be had after a few glasses of rum and coke. In my sixties I became very disillusioned with the institutional church……. and here I am at seventy starting all over again.

So how shall I meditate. Shall I meditate in the traditional way. Sit down, still and upright, relaxed but alert, closing my eyes lightly. Or should I engage in some task, concentrating, giving it my whole attention. Should I engage in candle meditation focusing on the flame to the exclusion of all else. Or should I choose another object as my focal point. The crucifix perhaps. Or should I use a word, a mantra, or focus on my breath. So many choices. After some consideration I decided to try a mantra. The word I have used in the past is Maranatha, four syllables ma-ra-na-tha, so I decided to go with this.

Concentration is the hub, the center of all meditation practice.                                   David A. Cooper  (The Heart of Stillness)

So here I am Thursday morning 11:00 a.m. I sit down in the chair, still and upright. I roll my neck and extend my arms to relax my body. I close my eyes, gently. I concentrate on the word Maranatha. Breathe in-Ma, Breathe out-Ra, Breathe in-Na, Breathe out-Tha, Breathe in-Ma, Breathe out-Ra. I do this for a few minutes when my nose begins to itch. I scratch it losing my concentration. Then my neck starts to itch and I move my hand from nose to neck scratching. I relax, take a deep breath and start the word gain. After a few minutes I start thinking shall I start a blog on meditation and my mind goes through a few possible scenarios. I catch myself being distracted and start the word again. My mind keeps trying to revert back to the blog and I’m trying desperately to erase the thought. After a few minutes I succeed. Then I need to do a pee. I look at my watch. Its 11:15 a.m. Can I hold it for another fifteen minutes. I try but the urgency is too distracting. I get up from the chair and proceed to the bathroom. I come back and relax into the chair once again. Ma-Ra-Na-Tha. This time I manage to concentrate on the word for a few minutes. When I lose the concentration I again look at my watch. Its 11:30 a.m. Good enough for my first day. I feel relaxed. Lets see what tomorrow brings.

There is gold buried in your heart, But you are not yet aware of it. It is covered with a thin layer of earth. Once you are aware of it all these activities of yours will lessen.

Sri. Ramakrishna (1836-1886)

 

 

Me and Kayleigh Rapping

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Kayleigh ready to rap

via Daily Prompt: Captivating

The phone rang, its ring tones competing with Beethoven’s Minuet in G streaming from the iPod dock. I pressed accept. ” Hi granddad, it’s Kayleigh, I’m shooting a rap video and need an English voice for four lines, can you do that”.  Its programmed into every grandparent’s DNA to never refuse their grandchildren so I immediately responded yes. “Great we’ll be over in an hour, we need your back yard for background scenery”. As soon as I hung up I had a feeling of dread.

Kayleigh is competitive by nature. She has an inner voice that demands perfection and is in a constant state of turmoil striving to answer that call . When she competed in competitive gymnastics she would haunt the house, thoroughly absorbed in the moment as she glided through her routine. It was captivating to watch as, eyes closed, she stepped forward, pivoted and raised her arms gracefully above her head responding to the rhythm in her mind, oblivious to her surroundings.

Would she expect perfection from me? I had a flashback to my childhood of reciting the story of the “Three Little Pigs” to my class. ” E uffed and e puffed and e blew the ouse in”.  “No” my teacher responded, rapping my knuckles with the bamboo cane, ” He huffed and he puffed and he blew the house in. Now repeat” . I took a deep breath ” E uffed and e puffed and e blew the ouse in”……. and so it went on and on.

When Kayleigh was ten she was excited to perform in her school’s talent contest, along with her best friend. They chose a gymnastic dance movement and practiced it for a month. On the eve of the talent contest Kayleigh’s friend informed her that she would be unable to participate. After the inevitable initial frustration had passed Kayleigh was determined to go ahead and complete the performance by herself. So the next day, in front of a packed, standing room only,  school hall she waited her turn in the spotlight. She was called to the stage and the music started. It was the wrong music. She calmly made her way down to the announcer and requested that the music be changed to the piece that she had selected. It was a captivating performance. She never put a step wrong as she gracefully floated around the stage. She finished to a standing ovation.

Kayleigh arrived accompanied by her sister Brianna and friend Lauren and we proceeded to the back yard. All three are twelve years old and admirers of Jake Paul, a YouTube star, who’s song we were about to rap. “Okay granddad, are you ready. We just need you to rap four lines, can you do that.”  I nodded my head obligingly and started to memorize the lines written down for me. After fourteen takes I expected Kayleigh to produce the bamboo cane and start rapping my knuckles. But to my surprise she was very patient with me.  ” Okay granddad just remember, its not London is my city, but England is my city.” “Got it”, I replied.  After eighteen takes.” You forgot to start with, ‘it’s everyday bro’ “. Kayleigh paused, staring into space for a moment. ” Okay, let’s do this. Just rap one line, then I will pause the video, feed you the next line to rap and so on”. We finished on the nineteenth take. That’s a rap. At seventy years old I felt I was following in the footsteps of my son.

When my son was fifteen he was deeply into rap music. I came home one day to hear ” Burn the house down” and the “F” word emanating from music he was playing in the basement. I became the inquisitor in chief determined to save his soul from the damnation of gangsta rap and ended up throwing his rap tapes in the garbage.  I still regret that to this day…..and here I am rapping.

Me and Kayleigh are bro’s. Its everyday bro, I say its every day bro.

 

 

 

White Privilege

via Daily Prompt: Fact

It was an indisputable fact that Richard’s skin colour was white, most of the time. For despite his constant effort, his skin colour would change to red when he saw Stephanie, even though she never noticed him. There was also the Summer months to be taken into consideration when his skin would change to a light brown tone. But we can safely say that Richards skin was white most of the year. It was also a fact that Richard had many other physical features besides his white skin. He had brown hair, brown eyes, a slim build and at thirteen was the tallest boy in his class. He was also kind, sensitive to a squirming degree and non-judgemental.  It was also an indisputable fact, as he was constantly reminded by his eighth grade teacher,  that he belonged to a specific group called white privilege.

Being part of the white privilege tribe, he was constantly told by his teachers, politicians and special interest groups that he was to blame for all the oppressions of his European ancestors against indigenous people. He was also equally to blame for people with skin tones different from his not getting the best jobs, not having the highest salaries, being harassed by police and for having the largest prison population. He was not sure how he had effected this but absorbed this knowledge along with math and geography.

When the school bell rang at 3:20 p.m. he made his way from the classroom to the kindergarten area to pick up his younger sister. They both walked home together, Theresa skipping ahead while he kept his wary eye on her for any unforeseen events. They made their way to the sixth floor apartment building where they lived. As usual the elevator had broken down so they proceeded to the doorway to climb the stairs. The stairs were strewn with the usual collection of empty beer cans, cigarette ends and miscellaneous wrappers. He smelt the tang of urine on the third floor where someone had peed in the corner. He passed Joe on the fifth floor, a person of white privilege like himself, who was sitting, staring vacantly into space clutching his half empty bottle of tequila. He reached apartment 604 and guided the key, attached to the string around his neck, to the door and opened it.

While Theresa proceeded to their shared bedroom to play with her dolls, Richard proceeded to the sink to attack the dishes. Having completed the dishes it was time for homework. Around 5:00 p.m. he poured cornflakes into bowls for his and Theresa’s supper. His mother was still at Walmart working the 4-8 shift. From there she would proceed to her 8:30 to mid-night shift at Tim Hortons. These were two of the three jobs she had to support her family. His stepfather had disappeared when Theresa was born. The rest of the evening they watched television together and soon after he settled Theresa into the lower bunk while he climbed into the upper bunk. Closing his eyes he allowed his mind to wander over the days activities and was reminded of his teachers discussion on white privilege. He gave a sigh as he accepted his burden.

 

Brianna and Friends

pexels-photo-635499.jpegI was laying peacefully on the couch, eyes closed, dreaming of how, if I won,  I would distribute the $58 million, available in Wednesday’s Lotto jackpot, between family members. I felt a tickle on my neck which started quickly spreading towards my chest. I looked down to see a hamster starting to scurry through the entrance of my open necked shirt, without permission or a passport. I looked up to see my 12 year old granddaughter Brianna smiling benignly down on me with a mischievous glint in her eye. ” Get that creature off  me ” I demanded, “or I will bake it in a pie and serve it to you for supper”. “You’re an evil and heartless granddad “she replied, “Bubbles just wants to be your friend”. Bubbles is the third love in her life. She retrieved Bubbles from his happy place, placed him in her pocket and stalked out of the room. I returned to my Lottery fantasy. Shall I just divide the money between my children and grandchildren or do I have an obligation to share with my five siblings and nineteen nieces and nephews. My sister Susan had promised to share with me if she ever won so I felt under an obligation to reciprocate. So that would be $58 million divided by 32. No, what about my wife’s siblings and then there’s the in-laws. My brain started to hurt from the higher math and I struggled up from the couch and went into the family room.

In the family room Brianna was teaching Finn ( short for Finnegan) to keep away from the treat she had placed on the floor until he was given permission. She, and he, accomplished this with great success. Finn, a hairy, fluffy, curly tailed, eight month old Norwegian Behund puppy is the second love in her life. Despite repeated warnings from the dog trainer she insists on carrying him around like a child and likes nothing better than to cuddle up to him. I glanced at my watch and told Brianna that it was time to drive to horse back riding lessons. She jumped in the air, ” it’s Pee Wee day ” she exclaimed and ran excitedly to the garage to retrieve her riding gear. Pee Wee is her first love.

We arrived at Old Orchard Farm forty minutes from the start of the lesson so Brianna could retrieve Pee Wee from the field and spend some quality alone time with him. Being early March the grounds and fields were a soggy mess of puddles, mud and horse manure. But that’s why on the eighth day God invented boots. Brianna spent an hour in ecstasy as she guided Pee Wee over the jumps and ran the course,  responding to the instructor’s guidelines. After the lesson she took Pee Wee on a short hack to cool him down and then brushed him down lovingly and gave him a carrot for his just reward. When Brianna wakes up every Monday morning she throws her hands in the air and exclaims ” It’s Pee Wee day to-day “. She feels Monday’s should be a national holiday to celebrate this event. Pee Wee will forever be her first love.

 

 

 

 

In my cups

At this time in my life my cup tends to be half full rather than half empty. Maybe it’s because at seventy I don’t plan ahead in decades but live more in the moment. Carpe Diem. Though I still take the ten year option on my passport.

It wasn’t always that way. Growing up in the East End of London just after the second world war my cup tended towards the half empty. My play ground was the ruins and bombed houses of the east end and my play was geared towards creating weapons of minimum destruction. Freeing V shaped prongs from the bed springs to create an elastic catapult. Using U shaped metal staples as the ammunition of choice and then going into battle. Filling a gallon paint can with stones, constructing a shield from plywood and defending your turf from rival streets foes. This was especially true around Bon Fire night (Guy Fawkes) where rival games would come to steal the wood you had been accumulating for the last few months. Not a very creative environment and I soon learned I was not of the warrior class. But on the upside there was always soccer and the silence and safety of church buildings.

My cup has never overflowed or been completely empty. I remember a guy who entered the men’s dressing room of a fitness centre I frequented. He was whistling away with a happy smile on his face. He opened his bag, rummaged through it and then kicked the locker in anger exclaiming ” she forgot to pack my shorts ” and then stormed out of the dressing room with a thunderous look.  It’s been my experience that people who tend toward high emotion in one direction such as happiness, also tend towards high emotion in the opposite direction when expressing anger. I always try to achieve balance in emotions. The operative word being try, count to ten, slow down the beating heart.

There are two words mentioned by John Main in his book ” The Heart of Creation”  which relate to the tradition of meditation. The first is Acedia, a word that describes the feeling of boredom and hopelessness . The second is Apatheia which is a state of detachment, a state wherein we are not possessed by our possessions, where we are not dominated by the desire to possess or control.