I lost my cousin this week. Today was his funeral. I tried to prepare myself for this event.
It turns out there is no possible way to prepare oneself for a funeral.
Grief. Loss. A misery so profound when his surviving mother wailed out loud how she lost him. It filled the chamber, cutting through all those in attendance.
A dagger in the heart.
Life took him along a different path then mine; our paths diverged. When I knew him, he had a ready smile and a quick wit. A sense of humour that made him popular and well regarded by all. An athlete as well, baseball by choice.
I have to admit, I was jealous. I did not have that natural charm and grace that he seemed to so effortlessly exude. That pointed to my own personal insecurities however, and I have been working on those since those days.
I had not seen him in some time. Weeks became months, months became years. Life kept pushing us onwards. It was only his passing that brought us together again.
It is my shame to admit that. Family has always been a point of friction in my sense of self. I needed to withdraw in order to find some manner of healing within.
At his funeral, I learned how much had experience he had accumulated in his life. He had a family of his own now. A son, tall and proud. He looks so much like his father. He travelled. He climbed a mountain.
He battled his own demons. Sometimes he won. Sometimes the demons won.
I did not know any of this. How could I have missed those moments? Why didn’t we connect beforehand?
Before it was too late?
So I listened, to his friends, to his family, as they talked of his achievements. I listened to the elders as they spoke of journey into the next stage of his existence. He is now surrounded by his siblings who preceeded him, by his ancestors. They said he was home now.
He was a good man. I miss him. I could have learned from him.
During the ceremony, there came a time where the speaker asked if anyone wanted to stand and speak of his experience with him. The chamber was silent but for the occasional sniffs of the tearful. I clenched my hands on the pew in front of me. My feelings were bursting, my sadness was overwhelming.
I said nothing.
My thoughts were spinning around my head, memories of our times together, the sound of his laughter, his easy going nature. Times I’ll never have again. He was gone. He is gone,
Something inside me needed to be heard. These words demanded to be written. My cousin is gone, but he will be remembered.
I struggle with depression. On a daily basis. On an hourly basis. By the second it feels sometimes.
I constantly grapple with issues of self worth. Am I good enough? Do I deserve the life I have? When will it all fall apart?
Do I suck?
I endeavor to build myself up even as I tear myself down. It’s unrelenting, this struggle between the productive and destructive parts of my personality. It never ends, just me circling round and round in my head. It pisses me off, to be honest. I am tired.
And it’s not just me. The world has descended into darkness. A disease has swept across the globe, while a societal disease has finally revealed itself amongst the populace. People are afraid. Depression and anxiety are more prevelant then ever before. Or perhaps, more people are opening up about their experiences with depression?
So, as a mental exercise to help me in my constant struggle, I am now writing down a list of things I have achieved in my life, as a way to quantify to myself my continuing existence. This strategy is a result of a solid conversation with my therapist, who uses Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and has thus far been so helpful in building my mental health.
So here is what I am and what I have accomplished:
Elementary school graduate
University attendant (maybe a story in there about those days)
I have read thousands of comics
I have read hundreds of novels (I read War & Peace! Not many can say they’ve done that in my circle)
I grew up bathed in Rock & Roll, I was molded by it.
I also enjoy other music, now that I have more exposure to different musical styles.
I love Transformers (toys, er, action figures, cartoons and comics. Movies, not so much, but the animated movie of 1986 was the BOMB, Go Rodimus Prime!)
I am a cat person. I have now one cat I prize above all others, named Wesley. He is my constant companion and cannot bear to be long parted from me, nor I him.
I have grown up watching television (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, OG Battlestar Galactica + new series, the A-Team!, Night Rider, among others)
I am a feminist
I fully support LGBTQ+ (find yourself. be happy)
I support issues of Indigenous sovereignty and self-government
I am gainfully employed (15 years now)
I was reluctantly dragged into the digital age by my S.O. (but now that I’m here, I kinda enjoy it)
I am a Gamer (Gods, I love games! RPGs, boardgames, video games)
I was Santa Claus once
I was an advocate for my elderly mother, which lead me into guardianship and trusteeship (one of the most difficult periods of my life, but ultimately the most rewarding)
At age 46, I wrote my first novel! (Humanity’s Best, buy it on Kindle and Amazon!)
I am Caring
I am Compassionate
I am funny (at least, I think I’m funny)
I am a tender lover (so I’ve been told)
I am a survivor of mental abuse
I am a survivor of physical abuse
I have sought help when I was at my lowest
More importantly, I have ACCEPTED the help that was offered. That is a big one
I actively try to maintain my mental well being
I love coffee
I love my S.O. (you the best!)
I am a geek (but not a nerd, not smart enough for that)
I am Gen X (& proud!)
I am a writer
I am not spiritual (I am not sure if that is a good thing but it is what it is)
I am a humanist pessimist (We are not special, merely one species of many that walk or crawl or fly on this planet)
That is a lot more than I expected. I am sure that I could add more but I don’t want to come across as self-aggrandizing. I suppose I could add Humble to the list. Or Sarcastic.
I am sure that by tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that, depression will find it’s way back into my mind. That is the way of depression. But for now, I am feeling better. I am happy.
To those that read this, try making a list about yourself, this has been a valuable tool to make one realise one’s self-worth.
A memory I often revisit is in when I was a child, living in New Westminster, British Columbia. This suburb is entirely built on a hill, sloping down towards the Fraser River. My family lived on what was near the bottom, a short distance away from the river, although numerous factories and other industries blocked our view.
My elementary school was located some distance away, practically straight up the hill. I walked every day, up the hill in the morning, down the hill in the late afternoon. The weather in British Columbia was always either sunny, or raining. Only very rarely it snowed. I was never prepared for any eventuality regardless.
During those times of the year when it snowed, the mild weather always ensured that the snow melted quickly during the day. During the night. all that water froze. Frozen water is also called Ice in many countries. It is however, largely unknown in New Westminster.
I hated those mornings, staring at the steep, seemingly endless ice-sheathed slope I was forced to ascend. I knew how difficult it was going to be, I dreaded it actually. But every day, I walked up that hill.
Cautiously, ever so cautiously, I would plant one foot, then brace it as I prepared to move the other. Such determination would have been unusual to observe in one so young had any been watching. Plodding focus brought me up that hill, 2 meters, then 10. Then it happened, as it always happened.
The sidewalk seemed to grow weary of my feeble attempts and of it’s own volition would shift, pushing me back down the hill. I had done nothing wrong! My feet were planted, my pace steady. I had taken no unnessary risks. Yet the bottom beckoned.
Spreading my feet wide in an attempt to maintain my balance, I watched helplessly as the progress I made fell away. As I came to a stop, I realized that I had still some progress. I didn’t have a backpack then, just a paperbag containing my lunch, a bologna sandwich with mustard on one side and buttered on the other, and a small collection of worn pencils stuffed in one of my jean jacket pockets. I moved the lunchbag into my other hand, hoping it will help with my balance.
I resumed my climb.
I have no true recollection of the number of times I walked up that icy hill on those ‘winter’ mornings. No recollection of the munber of times I fell and hurt myself, freezing my hands as they pushed against the frozen sidewalk. Forward progress marked by frequent backward progress. Dogged determination took me to school, every day.
I tried so many other ways to get to school. Different roads, different paths. I always started off at the bottom of a hill, there was no way to avoid that particular fact. I never once considered asking my dear old dad for a ride however. That way was madness.
I am much older now, looking back on those times, that younger self that stopped at the bottom of the hill every morning and looked up at the climb ahead. It was then, and still is now, the perfect metaphor for my life. Progress marked by setback after setback.
It is also a exemplary example of my work to combat depression.
It is the Hill upon which I walk.
It is the Slide that pushes me down.
It is my determination that brings me up and over that hill.
Here is a favourite story of mine. It goes like this:
I met Tamara 15 years ago at work. We both went through training at the same time. We noticed each other and then talked to each other briefly as the training progressed but we were far too busy struggling with the new education we were learning to do more than that.
We graduated and started working. Our training class tried to stay in contact as the months went by but we were drifting apart.
Then one day, in the middle of August, Tamara and I happened to be working out of the same bus terminal together. We hadn’t seen each other much except for a brief encounter in July. She mentioned to me that my birthday was at the end of the month and asked what I had planned for it.
I had totally forgotten that our class had exchanged birthday information with each other when we graduated. As a general rule, I never celebrated my birthday. It was just another day to me.
As I was about to mention this to Tamara, I looked into her green eyes and saw her, as though for the first time.
I knew then, that I had to do whatever it took to get to know her better.
So I lied.
No. Not lied. I determined there and then to create something out of nothing.
I told her that I was indeed planning my annual birthday celebration at a bar named Shanks that was in the southwest and that she was welcome to swing by. After the conversation ended, I walked away and surreptitiously pulled out my cellphone. I immediately called everyone I knew and TOLD them to be at Shanks that weekend.
Miraculously everyone came through and the party at the bar was fantastic. Tamara and I chatted frequently throughout the evening and more and more, I knew that something had clicked between us. Her smile and the way her eyes lit up whenever she laughed, captivated me totally. I was falling.
We both had to work the next day but we arranged our “first” date before and after our shift; breakfast together, work, then dinner at her place.
That, was 15 years ago this day, and I have treasured every day.
Fatigue can be overwhelming. There is so many things happening right now that one can feel like they are drowning.
My work right now is difficult. Time consuming. Draining.
We are also in the middle of a pandemic sweeping the globe. Thousands have died, while millions simply refuse to acknowledge the seriousness of the situation. My city has hundreds of new cases reported daily.
Peaceful protests and violent riots are the occurring on a daily basis. Injustice is being faced an called out. The people are tired.
I am tired.
How can one live in this world? How can I live in this world? Can any of us?
I turned 46 years old.
I have seen many things. I have experienced many things. I understand so little of the universe. I fear I never will.
Fear is a constant companion. I suffer from depression and anxiety. I fear.
But I got forth day after day into the world. I face my fear. I work and surprisingly, I enjoy my work
I step out every day knowing that this day, I could be infected. Or this day, I could be racially discriminated against because of my ethnicity. I could be assaulted during my shift, it is a frighteningly common occurrence in my line of work.
I act, in spite of myself. I achieve, in spite of myself. I am loved, in spite of myself.
He rolled over in bed as the alarm went off for the tenth time.
“I am going to die,” he thought to himself.
He thought that thought every time he woke up. At this point in his life, it was almost reassuring. Still, he dragged himself out of bed and got in the shower.
The day awaited.
The city was empty. Almost empty. A sharp wind swept through the downtown core, forcing him to pull his jacket close against it. The sun was bright and intense, yet when he stepped into shadow, the temperature dropped instantly.
The change in the world was most noticable in the core. Buildings were mostly deserted, manned by the slimmest of work crews and security. The bus drivers of the public transit system were the most obvious, in their matching uniforms. They gathered were they could, singly, in pairs or less frequently, in larger groups. They were extremely noticable, like a cult perhaps. They always acknowledged each other with a nod or a word.
They were required to be in the downtown core but there was nowhere for them to BE in there.
He coughed suddenly. That old worrying cough. It had nothing to do with the current crisis sweeping the land, but he cast a furtive glance around to see if anyone noticed. An approaching elderly man caught his eye, then the old man intentionally adjusted his face mask in response and provided extra space to separate them.
A sensible precaution, he thought, as the old man wandered by.
He was sick, it was true. It had nothing to do with the global pandemic sweeping the world however. The cough was likely from growing up in the house of a chain smoker. His was a mental illness, a disease of the mind, of the soul. It would take his life as sure as any cancer though, if he was not careful.
The social restrictions in place were meant to keep the disease from spreading, to limit it’s spread and keep it to a manageable level. That meant keeping people at a distance. Staying away from them. He had no problem with this. This was his normal. Reaching out was always the hardest part for him, and now he couldn’t do that.
He was drowning inside himself.
He looked up at the sky, squinting against the hard glare of the sun. The universe spread out before him, a hard and indifferent place, vast and unknowable. He was insignificant, he knew that, accepted that. A mote contemplating infinity. Strangely enough, this thought brought him peace.
Wars erupted continually across the planet. Civil unrest grew here and abroad. Illnesses swept through the world. He would survive these, or he wouldn’t. He understood that his actions didn’t matter in the long run. He could still get sick, or shot, or jailed.
So, he wore a mask. He washed and sanitized his hands regularly and maintained as much social distance as was required. He also kept his mind open to the racial unrest that was happening out there. He listened, and tried to understand.
He was hopeful, at the end of the day. The world would get better. It would survive this. Or it wouldn’t.
The next morning, he woke up and thought to himself,
I try to exorcise the demons in my mind by writing them down. Perhaps they will have less power over me. Sometimes it works.
My father drunkenly staggered into my room one night. Not an unusual occurrence when he drank, he hated drinking by himself. I usually hid myself under the covers and hoped he would forget about me. Not so that night.
Also, this time he had a gun.
I hopped out of bed and stood there. I had no idea he had a gun and would he PLEASE stop pointing it at me? His incoherent rambling swept right by me. All I could see was the barrel of that rifle pointing straight at my chest.
I endured a lot at his hands over the years, abuse, neglect, disinterest. This however, was new. Was the rifle loaded? I had no way to know. I stood there, hands at my sides. There was nowhere to run, he was blocking the only exit.
He mumbled something, then raised the gun and sighted down the barrel. He cocked the hammer and aimed. At his son.
At his son.
Some say that your life flashes before your eyes in these moments. All I saw was the barrel as he pulled the trigger. Click.
He laughed, then stumbled out of the room. I stood there for several minutes after, disbelief and terror warring inside me. Numbly, I sat back down on of my bed.
His beloved common-law wife, in the midst of her grief, found his will amongst his various possessions. Reading it with trembling hands, her eyes skimming the words until a passage caught her attention. Shaking her head in disbelief, she began to laugh, tears of laughter mingling with her tears of grief.
His last wish, his final wish, was scribbled in on the very bottom of the last page, in his typical, barely human version of the written word. “Dearest beloved”, he began, “what I am about to ask won’t be easy. It may well be impossible. But, I know that you have the strength, the determination, and the smarts to pull off the impossible.”
“Babe,” he rarely used that word, “I want to be out there, among the stars. I need you to send my brain into outer space.”
She sat for a time, pondering the implications of his last request. Wheels began to turn in her mind. Then the plan came into focus.
The immediate needs came first. She had his brain carefully removed and stored, preserved in inert fluids and sealed in a clear, see-through jar. She refused to look at it, being far too unnerved by the sight.
She cremated his remains. He was indifferent in his will as to what should be done with his body, he considered his brain as the center of himself, his soul as it were. She never agreed with that, considering his heart to be his greatest strength. After an emotional three day trip, she scattered his remains under the tree that she planted as a child on her family`s plot of land. The tree, grown now to a majestic size, solemly accepted the new company.
She took some time afterwards for herself. The next step would require all of her focus. She knew it would not be simple.
She sent several querying emails to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. She was looking for general information about booking passage and estimated costs. She received no response. She was not surprised.
She looked at SpaceX, a private industry that dabbles in space work. Their response was swift: a return email with the question, “Are you serious?”, with several laughing emoji. She calmly responded with the details of Ellis’ will and simply asked for an estimated cost. They responded with a number. She was not surprised at that either.
With limited funds at her disposal, she turned to social media. A crowdfunding campaign swept throughout the internet. She had considerable experience in managing her social prescence; she knew how to get results.
The novelty of Ellis`s last request under her management caught the internet`s attention.
A first, local celebrities, some she knew personally, lent their support. This caught the attention of local media. Before she knew it, she was managing interview offers from around the world.
The world, then, so full of fear and uncertainty, was entranced with her work. The notion of once again reaching out into the stars was a welcome diversion. The crowdfunding campaign far exceeded anyone’s expectations. Soon, she acquired had the funds to professionally pursue SpaceX to fulfill their initial agreement.
They were happy to take her money.
The plan was simple. The container holding the brain was to be shipped into Earth orbit during one of SpaceX’ routine supply runs to the International Space Station and launched onboard a rocket. Their only request was that they broadcast it live for publicity purposes.
The rocket was a basic yet sturdy design, with a limited chemical propellant. A fire and forget model. With the excess funding, she was able to modify Ellis’ container with plastic googly eyes. She knew he would have wanted that. She also wanted him to not be alone for his final voyage, so she sent with him the ashes of his beloved cat, Wesley. The pair were inseperable in life, so it seemed fitting for them to be together again for this trip.
The rocket was launched with much fanfare. The world watched and wished it a safe voyage. The destination was the center of the Milky Way galaxy, a supermassive black hole known as Sagittarius A. The estimated time of the journey would take 450 million years, at a rough guess. The world moved on, and soon forgot about Ellis and Wesley.
Attempting to hit a target at that distance, some 28 000 light years away, even a target as large as a super massive black hole, was not going to be a simple task. This was compounded by the fact that the navigators working for SpaceX did not take the task very seriously. They mostly just eye-balled a flight plan. No one would be alive to find out that they erred.
So, in the fullness of time, Ellis missed his final destination.
The little rocket and it’s two occupants bore silent witness to the life of a galaxy. Stars were born, other stars died. Life flourished on some worlds as it also died on others. Various gravitational forces made the googly eyes fastened to Ellis’ container jostle, just a little, as though they were actively watching the passing of eternity.
The aged and decaying rocket, after a significantly longer period of travel then anticipated, was finally captured in orbit around a small blue-green world. Mostly ocean, with a few large land masses, life had found a foothold here. The ancient Milky Way galaxy was crumbling, collapsing really, but life, beautiful, wonderful, life, had once again reached out and up on a small and insignificant planet.
Trapped in an inexorable death spiral around the planet, the rocket began to heat up as it entered the upper atmosphere. The aged rocket swiftly disintegrated under the immense pressure. The container holding the brain of Ellis and his beloved cat evaporated and spread out along kilometers over the surface of this new world. The googly eyes frosted as it encountered atmosphere but soon it too was destroyed, the frost appearing as tears on the plastic eyes.
A pair of life forms witnessed the fiery demise in silent awe. Lovers, they each made a wish upon the fallen celestial object. One reached down and picked up a small domesticated felinoid creature that it loved as well, though in different measure. The felinoid nuzzled affectionately against it’s owner’s chest.
I haven’t written much lately, I have a lot on my mind, and a not inconsiderable portion of it involves the Coronavirus. I worry about Us. All of Us. I know, I know, big thoughts from a small person.
It doesn’t feel right to talk about what’s happening in the world. It feels more like a private matter, like I’m violating a private taboo. Which is of course, completely ridiculous.
We all face death on our own, that much is true. Some beg. Some cry. Others accept it with grace and solemnity. I can’t say for certain, but I might laugh at mine, or perhaps challenge it to a game of Twister.
We, as a species, are facing an event that we haven’t seen in generations. The people who survived the Black Plague would have some sage advice for us in the coming months. We are not ready.
We choose not to be ready.
This is a vital distinction.
I work in a postition that can be called ‘front line’. I drive a bus for the city. Every day, I drive hundreds of people to and fro. I am frequently exposed to the illnesses of others. I have little to no protection against the common diseases that people spread, in fact, I am more susceptible because I have Type II Diabetes: I get sick easier and stay sick longer.
In the wake of the announcement of this new pandemic, many employers have had their people work from home. This has certainly affected the number of people on my bus. I’d hazard a guess that I pick up about a third as much as I used to.
That still leaves about a hundred people I encounter per day. Any one of them could be infected. I think about that any time someone coughs on my bus. And I get a lot of people who do.
I transport a lot of seniors. My route passes through numerous retirement residences. I hear them talk about why they are going out; several don’t believe in the seriousness of the situation and scoff at those who do. Others say that they don’t have much choice in the matter, They have errands that need to run, food that needs to be picked up, bills that need to be paid, and no one to help them. It breaks my heart to hear them talk so.
I pick up day workers and others who can’t afford to not work. A lot of people live Hand to Mouth, living day by day. I was once one of them. It is hard to see them, determined but also fatalistic. They know what they are doing is dangerous, but they have no choice.
Those are the ones I see that are coughing the most.
So here I am, sitting in a bus in Canada, watching the world respond to this outbreak. Some countries are trying to be responsible and get ahead of the situation, others, less so. I am also watching some world leaders use this pandemic to further their political agenda. And I fear for us as a species.
Not that I fear that this disease will wipe us out, but I fear that we will learn the wrong lessons from our survival. An Us vs. Them tactic, an isolationist approach. Things that only divide. Already, many countries are more blatantly espousing old hatreds and pulling out the drums of war.
We will be reduced if this allowed to continue.
We have made so many steps forward, we cannot allow ourselves to slide backwards.
We can get through this if we work together and stay together.
Please, pratice safe distancing and wash your hands.
A friend posted this photograph of a sign they have in their house. Simple, yet ever so powerful. Damning, despite the cheery background.
At this time, Wet`suewet’en protesters are blocking the construction of a pipeline on their lands. Indigenous people across Canada are blocking railways in support of this issue, crippling transport and passenger train service. Standoffs are occuring, people are being arrested. And this photograph has never felt more succinct.
I am a Nakoda Sioux, from the Carry the Kettle reservation near Wolseley, Sask. I am First Nations. I am Indigenous. I am Native. I am Indian. And I am about a dozen or so racial slurs that have been invented for us over the years.
They are fighting…no, WE are fighting for control over our lands. For acknowledgement that this land was ours. We are fighting to reclaim the knowledge that was destroyed by colonization. We are fighting to recover the identity that was stolen from us.
My parents were taken from their reservations, from their families and homes, then placed in residential schools. What they experienced there was something they would never speak of, except in alcohol slurred whispers. The memories were far too much for them to endure.
They were children.
They were fragments of people when they returned. Bits and pieces of indigenous and christian teachings, jammed together, neither fitting well with each other. When they found each other and began a family, this little bit of knowledge was all they could give. They could understand their language, but my mother could not speak hers, and my father, only a little.
I grew to adulthood with this little amount of knowledge. I was native, and proud of it, though I knew so little of my ways. Practically none.
I was an adult when I first heard of the Canadian government’s attempt at reconciliation. Money. Lots of it, being thrown around at the survivors of the residential school system. Just money.
I spent my entire life watching my parents struggle with their experiences, with their traumas from living in a residential school. The government seemed to think that money would solve everything. But would it? Did it?
It didn’t. Reconciliation is a simply a word, a concept. Writing about it, making a speach and broadcasting it to the world doesn’t make it any more real than the positive effects of the phrase “Thoughts and prayers.”
Reconciliation happens when two groups of people finally open up about their experiences. The problem as I see it is that the government is essentially a faceless organization with multiple, sometimes contradictory, urges. Urges that are fulfilled by various levels of bureaucrats. How can true reconciliation begin when the faces of the government change as if with the season?
The leaders of these protests have perhaps learned from the lessons of the past. The protests and standoffs that are taking place across Canada are perhaps a new form of communication. One that the government of Canada cannot afford to ignore.
The government will listen. We will make them.
Reconciliation is Dead.
But communication is still possible.
*Credit to Rebecca Holm for the excellent photograph and the kernel of an idea.