What is home? Ask a hundred people and you’ll get a hundred different answers, but what they’ll have in common is this: all want to be there. This story is about a human who spent his life searching for a home. This story could be about anyone: You, someone you know, someone you love, someone you miss.
From childhood he was out of step with the societal standards of the time, Born in 1947, he grew up in an era where being out of step meant hardships the like of which we can’t imagine today. It was a time when a person could be beaten for choosing their own road, and if not beaten the condemnation did as much, or more, harm. He accepted the condemnation, took it to heart. “I have no value,” he said. And so he lived most of his life from that point of view. It is a hard way to live a life.
He left his family home at a young age because it wasn’t really a home at all for him. In his 20s and 30s, he weaved a fine line that ran close to, but never wholly within, societal bounds with its layers of restrictions and exclusions. He worked hard, lived hard, played hard. He met the woman he eventually married, and while it lasted the marriage made him happy, and almost content. It ended after a decade or so, although the deep connection and affection between them remained. “I’m not cut out for marriage,” he said. And he never stopped missing her.
He embraced life’s adventures to the max, as though they might somehow show him the secret of being happy in his own skin. Skiing, scuba-diving, hiking, running, bicycling (he was an urban commuter cyclist decades before its time), traveling - all done kamikazi-style because that was his way. From his first steps as a baby he simply charged forward into adventures without any sense of caution. Yet he was also a health-nut purist, rabidly outspoken against any substance that could harm a body. “It’s disgusting,” he said, “what people will put into their bodies.”
He had a lifelong best friend who he met in childhood, a friend more like a brother, one who, over the years, passed extraordinary tests of friendship that very few could pass. A partner in adventure but also a voice of caution when things went too far . . . not that anybody was listening.
The facade, all but impenetrable, was of a wild man without a care in the world. The reality, detectable to those who cared to see, was complicated, and ultimately beautiful. He asked of friends and family only to accept him for who he was, and the lucky ones did.
He was a kind man, and a generous one. Intelligent with a sharp wit, he had a wry and askance view of society that grew over the years as he became increasingly weary of the farce. In many ways he was like his beloved Vancouver: hedonistic, free-living, crazy, rough around the edges, and wildly dysfunctional.
"Like a bird on the wire
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free."
~ Leonard Cohen
He was a tormented soul, and the things that tormented him would sometimes become too much. He would disappear for months, sometimes years, going off to live whatever life he felt his family shouldn't see. He never seemed to realize that the disappearances were as hurtful to the ones who cared about him as whatever it was he didn’t want them to see.
Then, twenty years ago, he walked away forever, went off the grid. “Don’t try to find me,” he said. And through those years he could not, would not, be found. His best friend was the only one he contacted, on rare occasion.
Sometimes walking away from family and friends, even the ones you care about and who care about you, is the only way to find redemption, the only way to be free. And sometimes, people find home in unexpected places.
Did he? If home is where you’re accepted for who you really are, then I think he did, in a community of square pegs and misfits and troublemakers and rebels . . . they became his family, and the community his home. Well-liked, he volunteered his time to help others in dire situations, something as natural as breathing to a man with a generous spirit. I like to think that he was finally able to say, “I have value.”
Only at the end did he try to find those he hadn’t seen in twenty years, but they weren’t found in time. It doesn’t matter anymore why he needed to stay away for so long, only that he lived life his way, and stayed true to himself. In my mind that is about as good as it gets for any of us.
For the countless humans out there still searching for a home, may you soon find it, and with it, peace. And if it feels right, call the ones who loved you once upon a time.
“For the world he saw was sadder than the one he hoped to find
But it wasn't near as lonesome as the one he left behind.”
~ Kris Kristofferson
Hard to choose a topic this week. Teachers or ice buckets? Strikes or causes? Something that drives me crazy or something that drives me insane? It was a tough call. However, the BCTF strike is at the peak of passion as I type this on September 3, and some crazy hopeful part of me feels that it might actually be resolved by the time this column appears, so I’m going with ice buckets.
There’s no denying that online social media is a powerful mover and shaker, and is highly efficient at generating far-reaching new fads. Fads, almost without exception, annoy me, but there is one in particular that is chalk-on-a-blackboard irritating: the Cause-O-The-Day Awareness Schtick.
Awareness campaigns work on an assumption that we, the Great Unwashed, are clueless and in need of education by those (your friends, say) who are smarter and more aware about stuff. For example, it is assumed that you don’t know about a disease called breast cancer. You need awareness to find out that it is a bad thing, and so *blip* another awareness campaign is born to run alongside all the other diseases that you apparently knew nothing about.
You open up facebook to find an endless march of awareness campaigns lighting up your wall, with requests to like awareness posts, wear pink ribbons or bras, support someone theoretically planning a walk or run (‘theoretically’ as in ‘until something unforeseen gets in the way of actually doing it’), grow a mustache, post ridiculously coy status updates, shave your head, dump a bucket of ice water . . . whatever it takes, man, because, dammit, you care.
This is how awareness campaigns work:
1. Do because everybody else is doing it. You want to be cool, right?
2. Declare that you are doing it to raise awareness (because clearly nobody else has your level of awareness). Sure it will sound self-righteous, but that’s okay, your job is to lead the clueless into awareness.
3. Be brave about the gimmick you're doing, remember that although it might be cold or hard or stupid to do it makes you look really caring, and besides, you'll get tons of likes for it. You can feel really proud of yourself, so much so that you can announce on facebook that you’re feeling really proud of yourself.
4. If you are female and the gimmick involves dumping ice over yourself, you get to add a bit of titillation into the mix.
5. Once you've done the gimmick and posted about it so that everybody else knows how awesome you are, badger others to do the same, and be relentless about it. If they don't support your charity, they clearly don't support charity at all.
6. Only raise awareness for causes that are currently trending. Nobody wants to know about the boring non-trending diseases, even if they happen to affect more people than the trending ones. Be real here, you know that trending causes are hotter, sexier. They pop. Besides, going with the trends means you don't even have to research it, or give money. You just have to do the gimmick, whatever it is.
7. Sit back and bask in the knowledge that you are super altruistic, super caring, and, most importantly, now everybody knows that you are.
I’d like to offer an alternative way to help:
1. Donate money or time to the charity of your choice. And don't brag about it, just do it.
2. Leave other people the hell alone to do the same. If they don't donate to your charity, don't assume that they aren't donating to any charity, but do assume that in the end, it is none of your business one way or another.
3. Doing stupid/cutesy/trendy things to show that you care about a disease accomplishes nothing. If it's cancer, you don't have to shave your head or post a silly status update, if it's ALS, you don't have to dump ice over your head. Just donate your time or money or both, that will do just fine.
4. Don't be arrogant: believe it or not, if you are aware enough to know about the disease in question, chances are high that your friends and family are aware as well. Don't be arrogant (part II): badgering everybody to support whatever it is that you support is rude and always inappropriate.
5. Don't tell people that you personally know someone with the Disease-O-The-Day. Just about everybody knows someone with a horrible disease, everybody knows it is rough going.
6. If you really need your ego stroked, don't show off about the money you gave or the gimmick you did for charity. Just go to your mirror, gasp in awe, and kiss your image. There, aren't you beautiful? Now, if you need affirmation from your friends on facebook, post a selfie of that mirror kiss.
Climbing down off the Cause-O-Rama machine will make you less noticeably giving, sure, but remember this: doing good work is best done because you care, not because you need attention.
The other day I was searching for songs to play on my guitar, and came across an old favourite called ‘He Walks On Water’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eCVw8Qjeg84
It’s sappy - yeah. It’s country - yeah. It’s . . . oh who cares, I like it.
I used to think of my grandfather when I watched the video, but these days it gets me to thinking about Jim instead, and the special connection he has with Andrew, our grandson.
The dance of love between an old guy and a kid
Jim is ‘Bucky’ to Andrew, and we have no clue why. It was one of the first words that ever came out of Andrew’s mouth, so he was too young to explain the thought behind the name. Still, we all liked it, and accepted Andrew’s choice. If I hear ‘grandpa’ in connection with Jim, it sounds weird and wrong. It seems Andrew, in some precognitive way, just recognized a Bucky when he saw one.
A tangent here: Wrong words often linger for years ‘round our house. When Heather was a toddler, which is (gasp) over 35 years ago, she called the dishwasher the ‘daftwashie’. To this day, it remains the daftwashie. This is how we roll - when we like a mangled word, we add it to our vocabulary and use it to death.
At any rate, here’s my favourite part of the aforementioned song: “His hat seemed to me like an old halo, and although his wings they were never seen, I thought that he walked on water”. And that has been kind of my secret take on Jim. If anybody I know walks on water, Jim does, even though he sometimes sinks like a rock instead. Life sometimes has traps for walkers on water, I guess, but the good ones get it sorted.
Over the years the kid has used his Bucky as a horse, a trampoline (ouch), a co-pilot on voyages out among the stars (in dining room chairs that doubled as space ships), a prisoner, a hiking buddy, a teacher of bicycle-riding and ice-skating, a patient (Dr. Boy often had to masking-tape his patient from head to toe to fix him up properly) (sadly, sometimes Dr. Boy forgot his patient and went home, and said patient had no actual way to break free from his ‘cast’), and a soother of injuries both spiritual and physical. Through it all, Bucky just smiled his goofy smile like the guy in the video, except with teeth.
Andrew, structures engineer guy in work overalls, has gone after-hours with Bucky to work to learn the art of riveting, and to ‘fly’ a helicopter or two. He has laboured hard alongside his Bucky, creating at least twice as much work in the process. Smiles, and sometimes tears, when Bucky has had to pause in their work and go out of town to do an on-location job.
And the hat in the video? Bucky has the hat. It’s a battered old Tilly hat that has seen (much) better days, and when he wears it, it does seem to me like an old halo. It’s not that Jim is a saint, god no, but he is a gentle soul with an unwavering devotion to his grandson, which makes him walk on water, as far as I’m concerned. Jim has no agenda, no pretensions, no facade, he is just, as Andrew says, ‘a good old Bucky’. He is truly WYSIWYG.
He’s not as ancient as the old guy in the song, and he still has all his teeth, but the ways the old man and boy are in the video is the way Andrew and his old Bucky are. It’s a dance of love they share, one of tenderness, affection, and redemption. But time passes, and little kids who idolize adults morph into bigger kids who don’t as much. These days, Andrew is an eight year old minecraft maniac moving into a new world of, shudder, pop music, video games, godawful movies, and cringe-worthy body-function jokes, yet the bond remains between this old guy and the kid, because in a world where people sometimes let a kid down, his Bucky never does, and he never will.
Read more Old as dirt. Twice as gritty. articles
There was a time many years ago when I was willing to go shopping. ‘Willing’ meant I’d go if nothing could stop it from happening, and the willingness came dressed in whines, “Okay, okay, I’ll go, maybe, sure, I guess so, as long as we stop for coffee and goodies every 1/2 hour or so. Also, I’m tired now.”
Somewhere along the way something changed, and I morphed from that willing happy-go-lucky shopper to a shopping-phobic desperado. Thankfully, Jim is not much better, and accordingly we have become something of a standing joke. This is how a shopping spree for us goes:
We get up, fired with energy and determination. We eat very little because we will grab a bite in town. We hop in the car and start driving. Our mission? To buy any one of the much-needed and long-overdue items such as clothes, aging computers, or whatever is currently at the top of the list.
We start out feeling pretty positive, one would almost say ‘gung-ho’ except for the sound of my mantra, ‘do we really need to do this, do we really need to do this, do we really need to do this, we could be bike riding, do we really need to do this’. Jim thinks my mantra sounds as though I am resisting, but really, I’m just asking a reasonable question. He uses the bait of lunch out somewhere as a lure. This fails, because eating out has also lost its shine for me.
We get approximately ten kilometers down the road, at which point the real conversation starts:
Me: "Man it's so sunny (or rainy) out, do you *really* want to go shopping?"
Jim (serious tone): "Yes, we really need to buy (whatever it is)."
Me: "But I wonder, do we need to buy it *this* weekend?"
Jim: "Well, we should."
Me: "But do you *want* to go shopping today?"
Jim: "Not really."
And home we come.
It’s a truly awesome system, both in terms of angst-reduction and saving money.
And yes, we are pathetic. We're shop-nots.
Some items have gone several years without being bought, and one item, a boat, is fast approaching an entire decade of not being bought.
Some of the delay periods:
- Boat - eight years
- Bed replacement - four years
- Computer replacement - four years (2007 Mac)
- Laptop replacement - six years
- Telephone replacement - two years
- Bedroom chair replacement - three years
Jim is something of a wildcard in this efficient system. He has become so desperate to spend some money, any amount will do, that if I so much as look fondly at something, he buys it for me. I’ve learned to add ‘but I DON’T WANT IT’ to any admiring statement I make about anything.
The happiest moment for me is when we finally do buy something then return it. Return-shopping puts money *in* the bank instead of taking it out, what could possibly be more fun that that? If all my shopping could be return-shopping, I would be an avid shopper.
Why this aversion to spending money? I’m not really sure. In some ways it is because most things aren’t worth what you pay, not to mention most things aren’t really needed all that badly.
Jim’s laptop doesn’t work well at all, it sort of runs on wistful thinking, but it still fires up and staggers along in a sort of random spastic way, and that’s not too shabby a thing for an antique.
The bed? Well, we can still sleep at night, so why do we need to replace it?
The phone hasn’t worked for two years. It is a trick-phone, it will sometimes take messages but other times it will play the outgoing message then *pretend* to take the incoming message while actually deleting it entirely. People think they’ve left me a message, and are then annoyed when I don’t return the call. I am so fascinated by the weirdness of this glitch that to replace it until I figure out what it’s doing and why seems defeatist.
But hey, enough with the procrastination. We are going to go shopping this instant, no more dilly-dallying. We’ll do it right this time. Why, we’ll buy everything on the list! We’ll go mad with it! We’ll . . . wait, do we really need to do this?