Three Important Lessons my Kids Taught me

 

Three kids and LarryBy Bob Lane

When our first son was about four he went to play school one day and immediately went over to an easel and stood there holding a brush ready to start painting. The teacher came up behind him and said, “What are you going to paint?”

“God,” he said.

“And do you know what God looks like?”

“I will when I finish the painting,” he said as he began to paint.

Isn’t that an amazing picture? And isn’t that an amazing insight? Why do I find it important?

We do indeed give form and meaning to concepts and ideas in works of the imagination that we create including paintings and stories. We are the meaning seekers. We are the creators of meaning. The bible, for example, means by means of its stories. Think for a moment of the Christian hero, Jesus. There is a sense in which Jesus is a model for human beings to follow. He was a man of his time who held the assumptions and beliefs of his era. He is portrayed as a charismatic man who lived with intense purpose and drive, who had an existential thrust to his life, who cared deeply about human beings, and who wrestled with profound questions of ethics. The stories that grew up around him have affected the world for two thousand years and have touched the deepest parts of our humanity with their simplicity of image and their promise of “salvation”. [Lane, Reading the Bible]

I think of the Biblical Gospel writers as being like my young son.

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; Do you know Jesus? “I will when I finish my story.”

The second lesson came from our second son. As I was sitting in the living room after classes one day reading the newspaper, I heard a an argument on the front porch and after some harsh words a scream from our daughter. I went outside and she reported that her brother had pushed her off the porch. She was not hurt; just angry.

I looked at her tormenter with my harshest look and said to him, “If I were you I would NOT do that!” He apologized to his sister and they went on playing. I went back in to finish reading the paper.

After a few minutes he came in and looked at me, and when he had my attention he said, “But Daddy, you are wrong; if you were me you would have done what I did.”

The law of identity! I had to explain that we humans are not always to be taken literally and that what I had uttered was a threat.

Third, I learned about the importance of point of view, not from my graduate classes, but from our little daughter in a stroller. As I grow older I find my mind circling back on a few vivid memories from the past. One of my favorites is of a time when our family went to the zoo in Seattle for a Sunday visit. Our daughter, Margaret, was a little girl, still riding in a stroller. We went to see the apes and the lions, the monkeys and the polar bears.

“What do the monkeys say, Margaret?” “Monkeys say, uhhn, uhhn uhn!”

“What does the bear say?” “Bear says, rrroaar, rroaarr.”

We then were walking along one of the many paths, pushing the stroller and trying to keep Margaret’s older brothers from climbing into the fields with the ruminants. At one point we saw a water buffalo grazing in the field just on the other side of the fence that the boys kept looking at as a challenge to be overcome. As we stopped by the fence we watched as the water buffalo walked towards us, curious, I suppose, about this group of non-water buffalo. As it came closer Margaret was equally curious perched there in her stroller at the height of the first strand of barbed wire. It came right up to the fence. Its broad nose was almost touching Margaret as it smelled her to determine, I guess, if she were friend or foe, or food. The five of us stood there looking at the beast for several minutes. If finally made whatever determination it needed to make and continued its grazing in the field.

“What does the water buffalo say?” “Says, woof, woof, woof.”

“Oh, no,” I laughed, “that’s what a dog says.” “No,” she insisted, “ bufflo say woof, woof.”

I thought about that for a moment and then I came to realize an important lesson about reading the world. So much depends upon point of view. From Margaret’s point of view, down there close to the bufflo’s nose, it did indeed say “woof, woof” – the sound of its breathing through those big silky nostrils. To my ears, four or so feet above hers, there was no such sound, and I also had some preconceived idea of what a bufflo should say! But Margaret simply reported what she experienced. She didn’t know what bufflo were supposed to say, only what that one on that day did say.

Later when I went on to graduate school to study literature I came to realize the importance of that lesson. Literature taught me again, what Margaret taught me that day in Seattle, point of view is important.

Just as a narrative structure is necessary for the story of Margaret and the water buffalo so is a structure necessary for any story. And stories, like other experiences, are both told from and “read” from a point of view.

Sunday’s Sermon: Suzuki

Screenshot-2018-1-12 consumers - Google Search

My parents were born in Vancouver — Dad in 1909, Mom in 1911 — and married during the Great Depression. It was a difficult time that shaped their values and outlook, which they drummed into my sisters and me.

“Save some for tomorrow,” they often scolded. “Share; don’t be greedy.” “Help others when they need it because one day you might need to ask for their help.” “Live within your means.” Their most important was, “You must work hard for the necessities in life, but don’t run after money as if having fancy clothes or big cars make you a better or more important person.” I think of my parents often during the frenzy of pre- and post-Christmas shopping.

Read the “sermon” here.

Philosophers’ Café

The next Philosophers’ Café is Wednesday.  Mark your calendars and join in on the fun as Dr. Laura Shanner, researcher and consultant in health care ethics, leads you through a discussion on lifesaving interventions. 

 

Philosophers’ Café: How Far Should We Go to Save a Life?

Wednesday, Nov. 22nd, 6:30-7:30 pm

Nanaimo Harbourfront Library

Sunday’s Sermon: Stuurman

historyRemembering Stuurman

“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy: they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” – Marcel Proust

RUSSELL: Douwe Stuurman?

HARDIN: Well, he’s one of a kind. He was one of the spearheads of the movement to keep this [UCSB] a small liberal arts campus. He was, as you know, at Oxford–a Rhodes Scholar–and very much a lover of humanities in a traditional sense. I don’t know how one could summarize him. You know plenty about him anyway. He’s quite unusual.

It is appropriate at this time of year to think back on the year and all of the years that have slipped by so quickly, and it is appropriate to begin with a Proust quote, for the subject of this remembrance was a great Proust student: Douwe Stuurman. University of California Professor Stuurman. My MA advisor for my degree in English. A man who influenced generations of students in his long teaching career. A mentor, teacher, friend.

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Letter from Sayward – 2

Community:  “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.”

by Paul Stahnke for Episyllogism

 

Lately, I have been thinking a great deal about ‘community’. For me, ‘community’ is the idea of belonging, feeling at peace with other people, and with where and how I live. This is an odd concept because I often go for days on end without speaking to anyone beyond my wife, Michelle. Every Wednesday morning I drive into town in order to visit my mother who is slowly dying in a care facility. I usually buy a few groceries, woodshop products, or welding supplies. I also meet with a local discussion group for one hour. In addition to following a formal meeting format, about 45 minutes is spent discussing a scheduled topic. Sometimes, a member might talk about a particular family situation or experience that has been bothering them, but by and large the meeting topic organises the flow of ideas into a particular theme. There is no cross talk that might hijack discussion although the thoughts of one member might be taken up by another, and so on. There is no formal order of member participation.  Sometimes, there is silence. For unknown reasons, in this small group simple silence is quite pleasant and allows a time for reflection.  The experience can only be described as ‘intimate’, for we share our most private concerns and thoughts. The size of the group varies between 10-18 people, and usually I am the only male. The ages range from 40 – 80, and group members come from all walks of life.

 

Last Wednesday’s topic was, ‘belonging’. I found it pretty hard to separate the sense of ‘community’ from this theme.

 

Today, while thinking more about this concept, I researched and subsequently read an article from a CS Lewis website. The author is Art Lindsey (senior fellow), and the article title is: “Community – and why we need it….Love is never stimulated apart from community”.  One particular quote caught my eye, “When we live our lives in isolation, what we have is unavailable and what we lack is unprocurable”. (Basil, an early Church Father). It goes on to say, “When we live our lives independently, other people are poorer because they cannot benefit from our gifts”. And, “When we isolate ourselves, we are poorer because the benefits of other’s gifts are lost to us, so what we lack, we cannot get”. [Source]

Why do people often feel isolated and estranged when living in large groups or in today’s western societies?

An excerpt from a Globe and Mail article states it this way:

 

“Chronic loneliness has roots that are both internal and external, a combination of genes and social circumstance, but something is making it worse. Blame the garage-door opener, which keeps neighbours from seeing each other at the end of the day, or our fetish for roads over parks, or the bright forest of condo towers that bloom on our city’s skylines.

Or blame an increasingly self-absorbed society, as John Cacioppo does. Prof. Cacioppo, the leading authority on the health effects of loneliness, is director of the University of Chicago’s Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience. “One of the things we’ve seen is a movement away from a concern for others,” he says in a phone interview. “Economics basically says you should be concerned about your own short-term interests. There’s more division in society, more segmentation; there’s less identity with a national or global persona, but rather on the family or the individual. People aren’t as loyal to their employers, and employers are certainly not as loyal to their workers.”

Last fall, an old school friend came for a visit. It did not go well. I had really been looking forward to seeing him and made sure we had lots of food and wine. Michelle left to visit her sister and we were planning to fish, cook out on the fire, and generally get caught up. After a day I found myself wishing he would just stop talking. It was incessant, and while it was certainly company, there was absolutely no connection left in our lives. I tried to understand why I felt that way? I was also upset at my attitude. What had changed in the last 15 years? I’m not sure, but I did have a few ideas. One, in that time cell phones came into existence and have since morphed into the ever-present smart phones with camera; being connected, supposedly. Cell phones don’t work at our house but we do have Wi-Fi. He ran around taking picture after picture and continually tried to phone or text his wife. He would interrupt a walk or talk with, “Wait one second, I’ve got to ‘get’ this”. He brought up other people from our past and I had only a vague recollection of what they looked like. Finally, I told him that I hadn’t really thought about school after I had left. I suppose the main reason for our bad visit is that I have changed; I am no longer the same person.

We no longer lived in the same ‘community’.

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SS: On the power of poetry

denman

Several years ago now our daughter, while a young student at VIU, wrote this piece as a way of honouring a family friend:

 

John, my father’s friend, his English student, his protégé.

 

John, who often saw me in a long flannel nightgown as I would rush from the bath to bed. As I woke from a dream or needed to go to the bathroom late at night, I’d see John, dancing in our darkened living room with one of his girlfriends. Dancing? Perhaps more clearly leaning on one another. The girlfriend either A or B, interchangeable to me, since my glimpses of them were always through sleep—filled, eyes. The song was always “Cracklin’ Rose” by Neil Diamond, the volume turned a little too loud to sleep, but not loud enough to complain. John and my father, drinking beer most of the night, and Scotch. Scotch only when the quality of it no longer mattered, but it was always the best.

John knew my parents and me quite well, but only Dad found the friendship mutual. My mother and I thought John was very distant, only wanting to spend time at the house at night. A “typical artist”. We felt that to John we were accessories my father had acquired — items to be tolerated, but not paid much attention.

From Oxford Press came John’s first professional check as a poet. He gave it, uncashed, to Dad. Tears were behind my father’s eyes Christmas morning as he held that framed check, signed on the matting, but not endorsed. The check was never cashed, though Oxford Press has asked that it be cashed — their accountant’s books have not balanced since that Christmas.

Saltspring, a collection of poems, followed that initial publication by a couple years. Saltspring is the name of an island near Vancouver Island, on which lived; the title alone made me curious to read the collection. Each of us, my mother, my father, and myself, received autographed copies of the book.

In it my mother found, dedicated to her, the poem,

This Neighbourhood

for Karen

in this neighbourhood

the mothers are calling

their sons in

 and the sons are

always coming

I’ve lived here so long I know

all the sons names

and I have come to recognize

the voices of mothers

and it brought tears to her eyes. She thought John had only thought of her as his friend’s wife. But no, perhaps more. A mother? Or at least a mother figure. One who cooks Mother Meals (balanced meals containing meat, starch, vegetable, and always milk to drink), and raises children. Another side of my mother was discovered. A side she knew existed, but thought had eluded John.

In the same book we read

One Love

loved one

mother us all

 we ended up

being born,

 ourselves.

. . . .

 

I thought

everything  I

 saw was

memorized,

 all I want

is wool & rain,

 to sleep in your lap

of jergens

 & bleach

again.

dedicated to John’s mother, recently dead from cancer, and my mother and I both cried. Each remembering her own memories of childhood, of Jergens, of the smell of bleach, and all of it: Just a few words, but enough to bring so many pictures and feelings to our minds.

I didn’t expect it as I read through the book. Turning a page, I saw facing me the words “Denman Island”, and underneath, “to Margaret Lane”.  Following was one of the book’s longest poems, a picture of myself I was certain John did not care to create. From that poem I realized he knew me in a way I had not imagined, that he did not dislike me, as I had come to believe. No, perhaps I wasn’t such an awful creature — merely the daughter of a friend — but a friend myself.

I read “Denman Island” many times; I wrote a paper in Canadian Lit class about it, as I tried to understand it, to interpret it, to know it like no other poem. Not because it was an assignment or in a textbook, but because it was my poem.

 

My father has the check, my mother has the neighbourhood, and me?

“Denman Island” is mine.

 

Margaretpoetry

 

Letter from Japan #2

Dear Bob,

Geez, it’s been a month already? I thought time would be going by a bit slower. That was part of the point!

This letter will probably be disappointing on the cultural-exposition front. The special circumstances I mentioned in the last have really cushioned the culture shock. But I haven’t really done much outside of home or work yet either, mostly due in part to my desire to be cozy. It’s FREEZING over here. This is the coldest and snowiest winter the locals have ever seen in something like 30 years.

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It’s never too cool for school. Now where do I park?

Enter, the kotatsu. One of the many brilliant innovations to keep your body, not the room, warm. From the outside it’s just a low table with a blanket in between two slabs. But under that blanket is a tropical paradise. It is very difficult to part with in a world where I can see my own breath indoors.

Here’s my haiku on the matter:

 “Winter’s Journey”

electric Blanket

cold cold cold cold cold cold cold

heated toilet seat

Here are a few more of my favourite things so far, before I move onto the neurotic portion of this letter.

  1. Natto: is fermented soy beans, and simply one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted. I’m lucky to say so because not only is it the healthiest and cheapest food available, even many Japanese find it gross with it’s old sock-like smell and phlegm-like consistency. I eat it over rice with the same enthusiasm as cheese on pasta.img_20170117_230542_354
  1. Engrish: In Asia, English is the preferred language of consumerism. It’s all over clothes, stationary, gift bags, product labels. It’s not supposed to be perfect, or make sense, but the haphazardness often reaches levels of absurdity you just can’t make up. And sometimes, beyond the garbled syntax, there’s hidden depth lost in translation. I cannot resist. And so collecting Engrish is one of my greatest, simplest joys in life. In Korea, too, I shipped home about 5 boxes of the stuff. It’s how my zine was born (but here, weirdly, I can’t find A5 size stationary anywhere! So, R.I.P. The Free Wheel).
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so close

  1. Private karaoke rooms: These are high quality. Even in a small town there is a surprisingly plentiful and current list of English songs. Yes, I anticipate spending a lot of time here.
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It’s like they were expecting me

So I’m still learning Japanese, but at about the same rate as my smallest kids are learning English – which is to say only when disguised as fun (or necessary). Mostly I understand what I hear most often and have bothered asking what it means, or what I use most often when I have bothered asking how I say it. For example, “hazukashi”, which is roughly to say something is embarrassing; that I’m embarrassed. Or shy, awkward, ashamed, put on the spot, uncomfortable…I’m not really sure if it’s a catch-all or if the nuance is untranslatable and it’s the common denominator of all these feelings. And this is why new-language learning is incredibly intimidating for me. I WILL use the wrong word. I WILL NOT be understood! I have to get over that. Anyway, I also try to also learn the opposites at the same time, you know, to stay positive. But I do try to intentionally memorize at least 1 word a day, and watch one YouTube lesson a day, so here’s hoping it adds up into full sentences. I’m not happy with my progress here so far.

I wonder if my teaching reflects how I learn. No one’s really dictating how I do either. It’s all up to me. It’s a lot of pressure, but I would want it no other way. But is it because I’m stubborn, or because deep down I truly know what’s best?

One thing’s for sure – I am free. Maybe the freest person I know. Outwardly, my life is simple. I have no family ties. Very little responsibility. No major psychological restrictions (that I can tell). Privilege. But with freedom comes responsibility, and I’ve always had this pervasive sense of not doing enough; like, failing to live up to my potential. I would hate for that to transfer into my ability to teach, or into my estimation of my students.

I feel like my classes are going well. But it’s hard to tell with no feedback, and I can’t rely on my students to tell me what they feel or what they want from me. For instance, I was under the impression from the last teacher that the 1:1 classes are strictly conversation, which was all well and good for my more outgoing students, but when my more introverted ones started getting more nervous and skipping class, I asked and learned that there has to be more to it than that. So there I was thinking I’m doing a good job forcing conversation out of people who are clearly uncomfortable, when I was actually completely missing the point. I felt like an idiot. So I can never really trust myself to think I’m doing well. Which sucks, but it’s probably for the best.

When I assume we’re on the same page though (and I do feel it’s safe to say in most cases), I am finding this work so satisfying. There’s such a variety of personalities, levels, demographics to teach to, from a group of babies who just need to be entertained and showered in English (my most exhausting class, but only 30 mins once a week), to a couple of self-proclaimed hikkikomoris who don’t want to be here (YET), to a fluent company man to whom I explain the nuances of English communication even I take to granted while he vents about work issues, to a philosophy class with 3 old wise ladies. Very small class sizes means I will get to know them individually. As long as I stay on my toes I can’t see myself getting bored after my typical 1 year expiry date. If I do, it probably means I failed as a teacher.

Thanks for reading! ‘Til next month. This is where I’ll be

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ATOP my electric blanket, NEXT to my heater, UNDER my kotatsu, hotpacks IN my clothes, ON my computer…

P.S. I’m back on Facebook now, back to being inundated with bad news. Wondering if it would be unethical to to ignore it. Feeling guilty for even considering it…”how dare the state of the world infringe on my own happiness?”

It does though. But maybe it should be the price I pay for being a member. I’d like some thoughts on this.

[Note: comments are welcome either here or on our Facebook page.]