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Archive for the month “August, 2015”

Depictions of “real” women.

Yesterday I saw the documentary on Amy Winehouse. Only familiar with the tarty, tattooed version of Ms. Winehouse with over penciled eyes and Marg Simpson hair, I was surprised to see a very natural fresh young woman. She is first filmed at age 15 and she is unassuming and silly and even a bit sweet. We watch as the perfect storm predicts her inevitable downfall and demise. Disturbed by her parents’ breakup, especially an absent father, her unexpected talent catapults her into the center of a media storm. With no support, in deed a father who reappears only to take advantage of the profits of his needy daughter’s profitable success and a narcissistic drug- peddling husband, Amy is ensured failure.

It seems it is only into her music where she can disappear. The filmmaker does not grab at our emotions even though much of the narrative is presented through the voices of lifelong acquaintances and people close to her. We never see her shooting up, or crying for attention. The film and photographs are fair. We feel as if we are judging for ourselves. Two of those lifelong true friends attempt rescues, but bulimic since adolescence, Amy is unable to find the strength to abstain from the terrible vices that drown her. In spite of her addictions and growing fame, she is not full of herself, even after winning award after award. She is amazed, genuinely touched and humble in face of the honours, almost embarrassed. Hearing her name read along with Rhianna, Beyonce, and Justin Timberlake at The “2007 MTV Video Music Awards”, she could as easily be merely audience to the proceedings , as opposed to being one of the named performers. She is in awe of Tony Bennett with whom she practices a duet, overwhelmed by her own lack of perfection, and the fact that he has chosen to sing with her. The filmmaker catches her honestly, lack of pretense. The drugs and booze bedazzle her and cut her off from reality. These indulgences fog her up. Sadly she is unable to control these excesses, much like a child venturing further and further off the edge of shore, teasing the spirits to call her bluff.

But throughout her misadventures, we like and cheer for this forthright girl, this mugging dark-eyed beauty. In the end, of course, she is a tragic hero. Though many, particularly in the realm of stars, have succumbed, there is something different about Amy Winehouse. Perhaps it is her shyness, her openness and how even fame and fortune do not tarnish the essence of her : not being affected by the rise to her ( dooming) fame.

In contrast but similarly the Netflix, Grace and Frankie series, gives us two seventy year olds whose husbands Martin Sheen and Sam Waterson have broken their marriage vows so they ( the men) can be together. Although Sheen and especially Waterson are fine, it is the women who tickle me. Grace (Jane Fonda), a former business woman displays a plethora of emotions: some gleaned through having an open mind and heart throughout the years of experiencing life. First annoyed by the hippiesque Frankie, Grace eventually can set aside her annoyance toward this aged drug taking big-dressing eccentric and display compassion and empathy for Frankie’s grief at the demise of her relationship with Sol ( Waterson). Her language, her words make me laugh out loud. She in spite of her own dejected and depressed state with the help of Grace can still embrace life, even, and at Grace’s insistence, do a wild dance on the bar of a club. Grace as well displays honesty, at her own aging body where lower underarms swing, for even the Jane Fonda exercise regime has not been able to keep them firm! (Such is the inevitable and unenviable power of gravity on women’s bodies.) And she, still a beauty as Jane or Grace insists she jump in bed before her online date can view her loosening body.

Just as Amy Winehouse, Grace and Frankie’s emotions are not hidden in posing or “acting” certain ways to please or fool or manipulate others. They are what they are: for good or bad. For the baby boomers, to observe mature woman behaving realistically, believably and admirably relaxed with themselves is a vast improvement to the posturing we often view of too painted or too decrepit women of this age. As role models, Grace and Frankie are older but better, seasoned and still attractive- even if their tummies have fallen and the lines around the eyes are visible. They know themselves and even having had the advantages of comfortable upper class lives, they have not been puffed up, but rather eased into themselves as women we might be or hope to emulate.

I think we mourn Amy as one of ourselves, a person so capable, so easily lead and lost, that lovely soulful voice that speaks and ensnarls us in emotions that stretch from girlhood to maturity and decline, the voice that has persisted even when life ends. Rest in peace.

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A Boomer’s Date?

It’s the festive party season and it’s the twice yearly fete. I”m not a party goer although I admit I like to shake out my fancy clothes and preen in front of the mirror. At least this yearly party has great appetizers and while my husband finds colleagues with whom to chat, I head for the tantalizing table of cocktails. All ready people have gathered at the oyster bar and are downing those rubbery delicacies in a variety of condiments to slip deliciously down their tipped gullets. I head for the sushi and the gigantic shrimps that are begging for the spicy sauce. Fortified by champagne, I seek my table.

My table companion is a slim man, my vintage. My inhibitions lowered, I smile and make a comment about the loud din of noise and he nods explaining he wears a hearing aid. All ready a kindred soul, I whip out my appliance from my ear so we can compare. His is a newer model that is partially hidden behind his ear; mine fits deeply into my mine. Not an introduction I might have cottoned to as an ingénue, but I am pleased to have at least discovered a topic that may pass perhaps 5 minutes of conversation before I turn my eyes towards the stunning centerpiece, the extravagant wines and the other dresses in the room.

His name is John and we both note that we are introspective types and this kind of party isn’t exactly our favoured social setting. I chortle that in spite of having a small amplifier to enhance the loudness of the voices, I often don’t hear and that is just fine.: to smile but keep the voices at bay. I begin to think that John’s name sounds familiar and his quiet demeanour reminds me of someone I once knew. My standoffish nature blurred by the drink, I begin to inquire what high school he attended. He says “McKenzie.” Encouraged I proceed, “ Did you ever belong to AZA, part of the B’nai B’rith Association which used to bring Jewish boys and girls together for parties and fund raisers?” “Yes,” he responds. I make an outrageous leap and exclaim, “ I think I knew you from a long time ago”. He politely smiles, no doubt wondering what next.

Intent on maintaining a conversation and rekindling his memory, I continue, “I think you were the first date I ever had.” He looks bemused and responds, “ I’m 69” and very very gently, offers, no doubt to preserve my dignity, “ I don’t recall, but then I don’t remember everything from back then”. We chortle a bit.

By this point, his wife is looking over at me quizzically. Undeterred with a huge sloppy grin, I boldly continue, “ OH! You never forget your first date.” In my mind I am revisiting the shy young man who arrived half an hour early and was so embarrassed, he barely uttered a word all night.

Still I go on, “ Your mother drove us to the party.”

He responds, sympathetically “My mother doesn’t drive.”

Like a roaring wave that has been set on its course that will, of course , crash on the sand, I seem unable to shake the idea that this person beside me may not be who I think he is. I do not admit I may be incorrect because I am stuck in my head that 14 year old John might have turned out to be this pleasant person who is presently sitting beside me. Albeit I am slowly recalling a different nose on the original John. Well, people break their noses in sports or sometimes past adolescent, features do change.

He is unbelievably kind in this situation, not insisting that I am a crazed seat partner who is delusional. Finally allowing the topic to drop, we ruminate on travel, grandkids, etc. and I reflect that John still possesses the same characteristics that would have attracted me more than 50 years ago: quietness, care, sincerity.

When we leave the evening, I confide this story to my husband and suddenly I remember, John’s last name. In deed, it is different to the one of my first date.The second syllable slightly similar but not matching. Oh my!!!!

How could I not have remembered that. I feel silly, ridiculous, thinking I should have turned off my hearing aid completely or stayed at the oyster bar.

Dressing the Torah

There are different ways of being religious and spiritual. For me, I associate family suppers, the small rituals and suppers that occur at Rosh Hashana and Passover with the traditions with being Jewish. They recall for me Bella Chagall’s autobiography entitled Burning Lights in which she describes the boisterous meals in the shetl where families had to travel ( much like Chagall’s colourful vagabonds with their (peckalah) bags on their backs to gather with relatives: breaks from the work on harvests, or in fields or other physically-demanding work. Those gatherings, those reunions stand out in my mind as colourful, happily anticipated perennial events that marked and reinforced their lives.

We once had backyard neighbours who argued that you must attend synagogue to be Jewish, that humour and culture do not sustain the religion. Sadly the discussion turned angry with our neighbours, fuming and scorning us. So an interesting discussion dissolved into a fundamentalist rant. So much for Sholem Aleichem and stories of dysfunctional Chelm.

Strangely some years back, a workman who came into my kitchen, looked at my backsplash tiles and commented on how they looked so Jewish. Yes, the paintings are whimsical recalling yet again Marc Chagall, but what is Jewish about a shepherd with his lute, a sailor grabbing a lobster, or a person with a dish on his head? Maybe to some, that is Jewish humour. I don’t know.

In any case, suffice it to say, I don’t frequent the synagogue often. Even with my parents’ yahrzeit, I dislike being lost in the so fast paced speed and romp through the prayers that leave me continually searching for a familiar word gleaned in Hebrew School: that the experience is more a treasure hunt than an homage or call to remembrance, and it ends in my frustration and embarrassment. My husband usually kindly accompanies me and is able to point to what page, what line, what psalm is being chanted in the blur of flying pages by the person on the bema who usually sings rather nasally, occasionally calling out a page number. Perhaps he is aware there are lost souls such as I anxious for direction.

Yesterday was the final of day of my mother’s kaddish, and I expected it to be quite quick. But typically my sister, the shul-goer, did not afford me the correct information. So although she sat surrounded by all of her family including the 3 month grandchild, I was totally alone. Which was fine. There were a number of kaddishes said throughout the prayers, not just for mourners in an extended service; however, the prayers are almost all identical. As we began with the first, I felt myself overwhelmed in sadness and the tears began to drop from my eyes. I certainly had not expected this rush of emotion as my mother has been gone for slightly more than a year and we had done the tombstone ceremony just two weeks ago. So the stage had been set for another upheaval of deeply felt emotions.

The usher appeared at the aisle and inquired if members of my sister’s family and she would participate in the service. They agreed and then she poked me to ask if I would like to “dress” the Torah. I say “poked” because one of my hearing aids is being replaced next week, so at present, I am only hearing in my right ear. I nervously agreed and when I confided to my sister that I had no idea what I should do, she affirmed that she didn’t either because women had not been given that role previously: Judaism has been under the domain of men forever although many sects and even this particular conservative synagogue has allowed women to participate and chant from the Torah in diverse ways, never foreseen in the original procedures.

So, the day for me was all ready feeling full of upheaval. But, I figured that this was an honour I must not forego and really how hard could it be to dress the Torah?

No one told me when I should go to the bema and I had to ask my brother-in-law, for I would not understand the barrage of words announcing individual singers or attendants to the protocol associated with the Torah that were intertwined in the prayers. I reasoned that I might be able to make out my Hebrew name, Pesah, but then no one had even asked for it. He explained I should follow his son-in-law who would be holding the Torah when I dressed it. So I waited and when Joe rose, so did I.

I mounted the stage and was about to sit when the rabbi indicated, No, that Joe would sit. Someone brought the Torah over and indicated that there was a soft band attached with Velcro that had to be wrapped around the body of the Torah. It was a soft colour like the colour of a doe and it had to be stretched a little to fit around the scrolls. Next there was the outer robe with beautiful fine red roses appliqued on a light sky blue gray-blue background. Slowly and lovingly, I eased it over the wooden handles that furl and unfurl the endless parchment of hand written words.

I realized almost immediately that I had done it backwards.

Would the next reader experience a shock, a surprise and on opening it be unable to read the portion correlated with the passage of days? Would I have to fast for 365 days: for, if you drop the Torah, I believe that is the punishment! What was the rule for contravening the Torah’s dresscode?

Someone in a hushed tone, noted that Yes, in deed, the external wrapping of the Torah had been reversed. So I carefully inserted my hands beneath the dress, making sure not to touch the sacred parchment in order to lift the covering, much as I would have eased a well worn cotton undershirt over the head of a small child afraid of the dark, smoothly, softly, murmuring calming words of support, love and encouragement so as not to disrupt the process of ensuring the garment had been correctly seated.

These were introspective moments as I took my time, was so careful not to actually touch, disturb or frighten the people who live in the words of the text, not wanting to jar them. I wanted to offer my care, my affection, my connectedness to them, my forefathers, my foremothers, their stories, trials, tribulations: the words that scribes had managed to record and travel through millenniums into the present. It was a moment out of time, the feeling of being able to somehow relate to books which are so much a part of Jewish history that explain ,perhaps, who we are, where we have been, our travails, our travels, our expectations, rites and rituals and so much more : and so much bigger than just – I.

I felt I had been given a tremendous honour and my dressing the Torah backwards had extended the moment, lengthened it for me alone, clasped me and included me – if only for a brief time- into something more mysterious than I could ever comprehend, into the incomprehensible, unbelievable world that I have almost always failed to fathom.

Many years ago when my son started Sunday school, he told us he was afraid to go back. Why, we queried. He said the teacher said that the following week the class would draw back the curtains of the holy ark in the sanctuary to see the bones of our forefathers and he did not want to see any bones. We laughed and said, Not bones, you silly, BOOKS.

And here for me were the bones and the books. I felt the tender love of a mother as I tenderly dressed the Torah, a habit I have performed over and over again for my children and grandchildren, and even my own mother. And I was, as well, confronted by the scroll, cousins to books that have been the basis for so much of my life: the narratives, stories, words that have inspired my aspirations, work and focus of my life; and my life’s passion as a former teacher, writer and policy-maker and… dreamer.

As I recall those moments that felt so calm, so peaceful, so disconnected to my earthly family, they suggested for me the time out of time I had once experienced when so involved with my artwork, that I lost “me” for a few seconds and then was saddened to return to literal time, preferring that sense ( or loss of sense) of being one with something ethereal outside and beyond time. I had surrendered consciousness of myself and only realized the sensation once my ego, the me of me was regained: but much preferring being encapsulating into the oneness of something much greater than just myself.

So the day was a surprise. I will not forget my mother: I loved her dearly and my unexpected gift of dressing the Torah will not make me a shul-goer, but I was given something very precious yesterday, something that may suggest what the mystics gleaned or the rabbis intuited and study, something that joins us to the past in an inextricable way that perhaps makes meaning of who we are, where we come from and where we are going.

I don’t know, but I was grateful for the experience.

Jon and Paul ( hardly The Beatles)

Last night I attended a shiva for the last remaining member of my father’s cousins. Shirley had lived into her 100th year, experienced a good life and apparently died a good death, having had her hair coiffed for a niece’s wedding, eating a steak and lapsing into that final sleep. Her daughter related that her mother, just prior to her passing, was conversing with her dead brother and sister, as if being welcomed into a secret society from which few return.

Interestingly, my mother-in-law also conversed with her parents and siblings who had passed away many years before she too departed this realm last February. So, there does appear to be a trend in terminal exchanges. Interestingly, my daughter Erica is involved in a study entitled Last Words, charting and researching the last utterances of the dying. She is part of an impressive team who will analyze themes, metaphors, meaning and spiritual indications.

At Shirley’s shiva, it was a pleasant few hours I spent re-connecting with Shirley’s son Paul, long re-established in Tel Aviv. When family gathers, they attempt to resurrect family ties and stories and that was the focus of Paul’s and my conversation.

We chuckled at the cantankerous rivalry between my Aunt Marion, my own flamboyant Auntie Mame and his mother, each attempting to outdo one another with family tales and triumphs.

Paul described Marion as a ”bohemian” which connoted for me long hair, heavy eye liner and black turtlenecks. Marion wore a lot of red and did make up her eyes excessively, but she was short and dumpy in stature, trading aloofness for true sophistication. It was a well known and damning fact that Marion was “artsy”, meaning she enjoyed art, an insult not a commendation in the family. When my father wished to insult me, he would say I was just like her. But her passion and knowledge of painting were precisely the reasons I was drawn to her. True, she put on airs but I always felt I was part of her secret soiree, sharing some secrets that mundane people like my parents could not possibly fathom.

Marion (born Minnie ) flaunted rules, marrying out of the religion before it was fashionable to do so and breaking her mother’s heart. The marriage did not last long and the stories I heard whispered alluded to Bev, her husband not only as a raving Anti-semitic but abusive. They had moved to Sudbury where part of my father’s family lived, dirt poor.

I had vague recollections of Sudbury as a child, returning home from visits with newspaper cones overflowing with the bluest and hugest of blueberries. And although I recalled my father as taciturn, I strongly remember much affection from his cousins and aunts who strangely referred to him as “Solly” and hugged him to their more than ample bosoms.

Between our branch of the family and Shirley’s thrived antipathy, each claiming a son more brilliant than the other. Shirley, with IQ tests to prove his intelligence, exulted Paul as the next heir to Einstein while both my aunts, Marion and Goldie, lauded my first cousin Jon ( notice no “h”) as the world’s next prodigy.

Goldie, Jon’s mother, would not stoop to the rivalry, but Marion was always contemptuous of Shirley’s boasts. Perhaps as young girls they too had been pitted one against the other, intelligent women, first born in their families, displaying dazzling intellectual prowess at young ages in macho times that would not allow for women to excel- although Marion eventually won the position of an editor at a magazine. Both women strove with their husbands to create important businesses: Shirley with Alec in the restaurant venue ; and Marion and Sid to be the original importers from Poland and Prague of wicker goods.

How excited I would be when my Auntie Marion would return from one of their trips. Marion would gather us around her as she laboriously explained the provenance of every single gift. Even yesterday I came across the garnet necklace she had brought specially for me from some exotic place, although for the most part, the offerings were useless trinkets whose story far exceeded its worth or importance, while we, summoned to their Forest Hill enclave were prisoners to the fables she spun endlessly; we, the captive audience at her feet.

Yet, I cannot fathom my grandmother Molly nor Paul’s lovely grandmother Fanny engaged in this kind of feud over their offspring, both intent on making good lives for their struggling families. Fanny had those eyes that disappeared into folds of laughter, and my memories of my grey-haired grandmother are eclipsed by her struggles to breathe. Still I did not truly know either woman.

However, I imagine in those days, Goldie had the last laugh as Jon became the embodiment to every mother’s dream, a doctor. In fairness, Jon was a spectacular student, gaining laurels with his work and expertise. The most revealing story retold by my mother was of Jon, the ingénue medical student, so fascinated by a chicken embryo that he observed it too long and fried it.

Thinking back now, I wonder whether that was even possible: a microscope that hot? For me, it creates the image I have of myself so obsessed with art that I am able to vanish all else, causing the world outside to disappear, and become one with the study. In our family Jon was adored, our Sir Lancelot. Even given the middle name Howard should his Jewish surname need to be dropped to avoid discrimination.

With an eye to unravel genealogy, Paul has been composing family charts as it seems everyone married their cousins in the shetl years back, resulting in Shirley’s and her daughter Carol’s assault by Chrome’s disease; and in my mother’s family, a neurological disorder termed Essential Tremor. And likely my father’s asthma had its routes that travelled from cousin to cousin threaded and replicated in the cohabiting DNA strands that united them.

At the shiva, I was fortunate to be chatting with Paul, for I caught the maintained one-upmanship between our sisters ( does it ever end?) nearby of “ What does your son/daughter do now) and I was glad for a conversation of books and travels with Paul. I can easily play the successful child game, but it bores me. It speaks not to who we are, but what we have/possess: children and their accomplishments as indications of a satisfying and valuable life worthy of bragging and envy of the other… Shades of Shirley and Marion?

On the way home from Shirley’s shiva, I remarked to my sister, “I remember so and so, when… “ and I recounted a particular narrative that had assumed a spot in my childhood fables of who I was as a child in our extended family. Then I reflected that often we are defined by others by certain past moments, thin threads of remembrances that are frozen in our heads for some reason. Usually it is a sad, downtrodden or embarrassing revelations. Maybe it is schadenfreude. That memory does not persist to discredit any future activities, but serves to point out- for me- a frozen interchange or observation that is returned to whenever our thoughts pass over the countenance of that person from years back. We never stop to ponder that one single interaction should not assume symbolic proportions because we have alighted upon it –with joy or dread or wonder. It is a single thread of tapestry.

But even so, as these stories offer glimpses into ourselves as children, the picture offers only single strands, individual stars to provoke jealousy or suggest affection. Perhaps I am overly sensitive as to me the Jon and Paul recollection assumes the old pissing game of who shoots the furthest.

Maybe when the immigrants came over, they felt they had to re-establish their sense of self through material possessions or the possibility of renewal and upward mobility through their children. And we hold on to diffuse memories exaggerated at the sake of all the other days and encounters by the cousins.

What strikes me most strongly at these get togethers, ostensibly sad ones such as a shiva are my cousins. Some are people I feel I could have shared real relationships with had I encountered them in university or work, exchanging ideas, smiles and easy conversations. And I think that perhaps if like my father’s cousins, they had been crowded into houses next door to one another, we might have naturally skipped rope or thrown balls with them, easy access to friends who just happened to be our relatives. And I am fascinated by the trajectory in the family, noting the talents and trends that have budded: writers and doctors on one side; social workers and lawyers on the other.

I think it can be rather rewarding to be in a quiet room and surprisingly, experience kinship even when you are related to the people sitting next to you. Not the music of the Beatles, but sweet and provocative, anyway.

Class Voices

I’m sitting in Paula Draper’s Ryerson course and usually I really don’t have much interest in listening to the voices of the other students after presentations as so often conjecture is boring and self-indulgent, but this is different today. Rather than their inward-looking ponderings, these are remembrances of lived experiences. The topic is Anti-Semitism in Canada between the wars. It appears the people in the class, largely Jewish, hail from Winnipeg, but some from Montreal. They are describing events that were motivated by antagonism towards Jews in years that are fogged with time. One man recalls a sign in a restaurant in St. Agathe that prohibited both dogs and Jews to the premise. I am reminded of Lita Rose Betcherman’s work on Centre Island here in Toronto, the same story with different words, echoing Goebbels films and slogans that Jews like vermin must be eradicated. And the book None is Too Many by Abella and Trooper, chronicling the refusal towards Jewish refuges to land on Canada’s shores during the 1930-40’s, most memorable the St. Louis, boat of desperation rejected by Cuba, then attempting sanctuary in Canada, but eventually forced to return to Europe with its human cargo destined for death.

In class, Draper has just mentioned McKenzie King’s personal attitude towards Jewish immigration; he even purchased land around his own home to avoid Jews from coming too personally close. Blair, his immigration minister openly rejected Corrine Wilson’s plea to allow 1000 Jewish families into Canada. He finally agrees to 100 orphans with only two actually permitted entry. Yet, Draper states that the newspaper was rift with Nazi barbarism and Jewish terror. Ironically Joseph Kennedy maintained he could trust Hitler; obviously Neville Chamberlain believed likewise.

In Canada again, I reflect on the exclusion of Jews from professions, quotas by universities such as McGill and U of T and shake my head. We have come a long way–maybe. Yet at my grandson’s school they have cancelled Multicultural Night where moms were to bring ethnic foods, a version of “Holidays and Heroes”: which even in my1996 thesis research I found to be stereotyping attempts at integrating diverse cultures. But I wonder why the reason for cancellation. Perhaps parents are too busy and cannot concoct delicatissies that reflect the origins of their families. Maybe there reasonably hides some latent resentment at being classified by food their grannies once prepared and are now too old to deliver to a night event at a nearby school. I know there is acceptance of all at this mid-Toronto school and do not for a second consider there is a link to discrimination or racism. My grandson studies Mandarin in a noontime program and the faces emerging from school at the end of the day provide wide evidence of Canada’s changed policies of immigration.

I  wonder what food would represent Jews from Poland, Rumania, Hungary, Lithuania. Bagels? Matzoh balls? Pierogi? Goulash? Strange for my grandsons whose first foods were edamame and pizza. They did not even taste fabled chicken soup until years later. I chuckle to consider that one grandchild’s favourite Saturday lunch at Pickle Barrel commences with chicken soup followed a hot plate of tomato and meatball spaghetti. He is not eating Ethnic. He is merely following the trajectory of his taste buds. Should we say he is combining the food predilections of several foreign countries, he might look quizzical and continue slurping his soup.

When my children were young, we were always expected at the Friday night supper at my parents. I recall my young son cease his eating to frown, look up at the assembled family and query, “ What if we are only a dream in G-d’s head?” Stunned by his utterance momentarily, my mother admonished, “ Just finish your soup”. And he returned to his bowl of hot chicken soup. Perhaps his philosophical questioning squashed forever!

We learned in school that Canada was a mosaic, tiny glittering squares, individual but separate,special and unique, showcasing the qualities of our immigrants, unlike the United States’ melting pot, the gooey non-descript sludge that results when all the ingredients become indistinct from too much chopping and cooking. I often thought of Eva Hoffman’s Lost in Transition where upon entering kindergarten, her name was changed, anglicized to fit into a 1950’s world. From that point, she wrote that her early years growing up in Poland had become inaccessible to her because they had been lived in another language she was no longer permitted to speak in the land of milk and honey.

We here felt secure about our identity that looked to the past but was conjoined with the present to represent all of our realities, that mosaic thing, later to become the mantra of Post-modernism thought. But yesterday when the soldier guarding the war memorial on Parliament Hill was gunned down, I think everyone wondered. ( Remember I write my blogs to be edited much later) Of course anywhere where guns are available, there is no safety. Did the US smirk and think, you’re not so different Canada. Terrorists can also infiltrate your shores, blatantly walking into your home, spreading cloaks of evil and death. The National Post (November 7, 2014) wrote, “Was he ( the gunman) driven by mental illness and drugs? Was the attack a function of extreme religious beliefs, a reaction to the war on the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham? Or was it a copycat crime possibly triggered by the killing of another Canadian soldier in Quebec two days earlier?”

I don’t know how to think about this horror. It is a wide leap to blame immigration, carding, identifying good people from bad. How do we know? Do we really want to try to read the faces of every person who jostles us on the street, scrutinizing by beards, sneers, limps, thick glasses, funny hats and outlandish clothes, or maybe the ones who look most normal like Paul Bernardo: wolves in sheep’s clothing. Ironically, the mother of the gunman (Michael Zehaf-Bibeau born in Canada in 1982), Susan Bibeau, worked as the deputy chairperson of the Immigration Committee at the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada.

Having just returned from visiting the 9/11 Museum in New York, and caught in the teeming continuous flow of people in the streets, I cannot know who possesses the madness to pull a trigger or grab my hand in friendship. How do we make judgments that will keep us safe in our home, in our country?

My Pilates instructor that morning suggested that watching the news of the gunman on the hill was like a film trailer of a new catastrophe films. When I worked at the College and rushed in to witness the Twin Towers pierced by the plane,s I thought the same: just rewind the tape and remove the catastrophe, I silently pleaded in my head.

This film’s events at Parliament hill shot by Globe and Mail reporter Josh Wingrove were raw and brutal, revealing the bravery of the police/ RCMP that tailed the shooter, not hanging back. Maybe a bit like the Blair Witch documentary with the smudgy, dropped camera that tracks a murderer in small town America. Loose focus ,but mouth-dropping brave. And the story-our story of the Sergeant at arms who practices weekly with his gun, who was at the ready, and acted immediately. High, hideous, drama in deed.

We, the observers, stand outside the drama gawking, but truly we are inside in the heart of the violence, in our theoretical home, our head, our parliament that organizes our lives in this country. I never drive the Highway of Heroes without reflecting on Nathan Cirillo’s final ride and the people who stood at the edge of the road in freezing cold. His stepfather said, “We are not only mourning as a family, but also a country.”

When I taught my Post-colonial class at Northern, I instructed my classes, “ We all came from somewhere outside Canada; we are all immigrants to this country.”

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