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Archive for the month “April, 2018”

This Week

What a week this has been. After the terrible ice storm and lingering winter, finally sunshine on Monday that brought people to the street, to walk, to dawdle, to stroll, to grab a coffee and feel themselves like buds begin to open and bloom again. And so between Sheppard and Finch those mothers, grandmothers, shopkeepers, dads, visitors to Toronto, those walkers found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time: cut down on that glorious day by a van whose driver could not be awakened by sun on his face. In deed he commandeered a van to efficiently murder innocent people who were out, minding their own business, just participating in the throbbing life of the city- on the first sunny day in quite some time.

Amidst gossip of who the driver might be, the back story hinted at a terrorist, but eventually revealed one motivated not by political ( as per the dictionary definition), but personal reasons, just as the ones who had ploughed through unsuspecting crowds in Cannes and Vienna, scattering and killing, using a van to maximize the death and to assuage his own misery.

The media described the van’s driver as continually employed in tech firms, living at home, but with a background of antisocial behaviour. One former classmate from high school relayed that ,Alek, the driver, used to meow like a cat and did not interact with his peers. Another article did not refer to him specifically as having Aspergers Syndrome, although his mother asserted it, but listed him within the autist spectrum disorder (ASD), underlining that people with autism are not dangerous.

This discussion reminded me of my early work at OCT, my first assignment to revive and rewrite the Special Education AQ, the AQ, being the additional qualification courses required for teachers to teach particular subjects, enhancing their pedagogy and acquiring new understanding and knowledge. For more than three years( while I was also involved in rewriting other AQs, and developing the College’s first set of ethics and standards with a team), I acquired more knowledge into what teachers needed to know about Special Education that ran the gamut from Giftedness to Autism. We interviewed specialists in the field, researched, looked at stats, did comparison studies, attended conferences, sat in on high school classes, dialogued with teachers, parents, and student teachers, visited special schools, private facilities, consulted students themselves, read Temple Grandin and poured over information from the Geneva Centre…: in an attempt to comprehend the topic from the inside-out, for every school offers or integrates special needs students in their classrooms.

I recall our wonder at learning that from 10 or so identified children with autism in our schools , the number appeared to suddenly catapult to thousands in Ontario and we ruminated on whether students had not been properly identified, ignored, or whether the sudden rise was due to environmental conditions such as “ something in the water”. What we knew was that teachers must prepare in a meaningful way. I recall our first drafts, eventually learning the lexicon so that the guideline would speak to and respect the intricacies of language that explained the autism spectrum disorder : as the variation among children with autism was wide and as in most cases, one hat does not fit all. Certainly we were aware that our guideline would be taught by experienced teachers who possessed both theory and practice in working with this speciality . Their expertise would make the guideline come alive with personal anecdotes regarding behaviours and assistance for their students. As well, the guideline- which originally comprised barely a few paragraphs on a single page- almost 20 years ago- would be reviewed and made current every three or so years.

So when reading about Alex Minassian, 25 in the newspaper, I noted his community help had ended. Perhaps that would not have made a difference as his deep issues of built up grievances caused him to be linked to the other misguided persons whose rage and anger and despair are so great so that they turn their belligerence outward, onto innocents who happen to be out strolling on a spring day: 10 dead, 13 more in hospital .In the split behaviour of one so overcome by emotions of hatred and intent to murder, he still was able to create a plan, rent a van, decide on a particular area in North York, both parts of his brain coalescing on Monday last. Ironically, as Sylvia Stead in today’s Globe points out,“… people living with mental illness or autism are more likely to be the victims of violence than perpetrators…” As he threatened the police office with a fake gun, taunting, he was likely calling for his own death. To the credit of the force, both training and procedures,Ken Lam, the police officer did not respond in a volley of fire, he took down the assailant without gunfire. Were Minassian’s actions copycats of earlier attacks fortified by the Incel chatter on Facebook? How long had he scanned the net, searching for means and ways, looking to perform his own personal attack? What goes on in any troubled mind and how much pain makes a person plot such a horrendous crime?

We, the others, after mourning and laying flowers at the makeshift memorial, will return to our lives, more cynical and jaundiced by the actions of this man and the sadness for the families of those cut down , no matter the age. A little boy has lost his single mother, Renuka Amararasingha from Sri Lanka, who newly hired as a cafeteria worker at Earl Haig Secondary School was hurrying off to Scarborough to pick up him up from school. And for one student at Earl Haig who writes he may have been the last to see Renuka at lunch: a chilling memory to keep him up at night. The Globe in publishing narratives describing the murdered has made them much more than ciphers, facts or statistics. They have rendered them as living humans with details: such as Geraldine Brady, a Cancer survivor with a reconstructed jaw; the image of Ms Forsyth’s abandoned walker, and recalled as being lucky on casino night; Anne Marie D’Amico who loved to travel and volunteer; grandfather Muniz Najjar, a Jordanian citizen, here to visit his children, but also depicted as one day savouring ice cream in Unionville and on another amazed at a. “blast of snow weeks later”…just a few stories to contemplate, along with the rest.

After a week or month, we may cease to notice a white van moving rather quickly on the streets, but we will reflect that no one is truly safe in society, but life will more or less return to normal- until another such incident somewhere else occurs. For those who no longer pass us on the street, nameless, and for their loved ones, lives have been forever altered. And the wonderful helpful bystanders who immediately responded by reaching for the hands of the dying, performing CPR , fixed in their seats at Starbucks, or miraculously just grazed by the speeding van, all traumatized and made immobile, new terrible realities have been instilled as well.

Yet, we must in this instance acknowledge reporting in our publications that is kind, accurate and fair. In a world of so- called fake news, we must continue to look at the rapidly declining newspapers and remember the significance of a free press. In the flow of everyday, we might try to focus on the positive life- enhancing behaviours that make life worthwhile and overcome the evil in our streets.


Morning Rituals

When I was employed, there was no choice, but to rush through breakfast and prepare for the workday. Now in retirement, there is more leisure to beginning the day.

I want to at least see my husband at breakfast as he proceeds into his tumultuous workday wherein his Fitbit can track 20,000 steps so I raise early.

My day begins by perusing the two newspapers, the Globe having restylized itself into fewer sections with print so tiny you must practically push it to your nose. Knowing several of Howard’s cases have been either reported so badly or the point missed, I almost must agree that what we are reading is practically fake news. I’ve disparaged reporting in the past few weeks because of an explosion of meaningless words that confound rather than elucidate the stories and I wonder at journalists who are either clueless, missing the point, or merely going for sensationalism. So, not surprisingly, my eye alights more often than not on headlines or even photos. At least, some articles are still properly structured with the first sentence of the paragraph previewing the thoughts developed within. Others merely ramble.

Today, April 17 which should showcase spring is still awash in the weekend’s torrent of unbelievably terrible weather. For our part, a tree we have routinely reported as dying but deemed healthy by the city, fell on my neighbour’s brand new Subaru, putting out the back window.Neither did her husband’s van escape scrapes , scratches and destruction when that severely rotted tree was pushed by wind, ice and snow to fall on their driveway. Two perplexed robins with ice on their feathers land on our ledges so confused about the arrival of spring that they flutter in circles. One attempts to perch on the bits of brown clematis tendrils tied to our garage, but falls back to the ground. The bread we scatter for them gets covered by more heaping snow. Yet like lost travellers, they continue to go in circles, returning to where they had begun their hapless search. Fortunately the ducks who arrive in our swimming pool ever year must have had advance warning as they -at least -have not reappeared.

The story regarding the sale of Chagall’s Eiffel Tower is perplexing. Ostensively straight forward that the Jacques-Louis David of St. Jerome has greater significance for Canada, the Chagall is in deed a crowd pleaser, its colours, imagery, fantasy more recognizable to the viewer. One wonders about the politics behind the auction. In today’s Saturday paper, one writer, KateTaylor, ridiculously reduces the battle to religious battlegrounds, as in “imply[ ing]that this Catholic painting is somehow more important than one by a Jewish artist” .( Saturdays Globe) No doubt the flamboyant Chagall draws more interest although if you are a student of art history, you will know the realist David owns an important place in the annals of developing art history. Still from my limited perspective, to sell off a world class beauty when our collection is so limited appears rather narrow. As letters go in both newspapers, even readers who announce they have taken art classes in world art have no knowledge of David. Time again it speaks to a rather poor representation of the evolution of the metier as David’s work is significant although like the Poussin versus Rubens debate, I go for the artist who knows how to arouse by colour: bringing joy and happiness through their work.

The John Oliver story, Oliver, himself, a hilarious critic of world affairs, especially Trump, draws my eye. On his show he had introduced his children’s book, A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, that mocks the one created by Mike Pence’s family. Brilliantly satirical, Oliver’s parody positions his bunny as looking for love with other non- sanctioned bunnies.The Globe reports it as a top seller on Amazon. Yet in this topsyturvy world, Trump with his lies, strange bed fellows in and out of office, still maintains approval ratings. But scarily enough, his second man, Pence, is as well, no winner: his past lives and passions dating him to the Salem witch trials, almost: Oliver has shown. More gloom in my worldview this week.

This world, this wild world where seasons are corrupted, glaziers dissolving, climates perverted, and dictators still poisoning and putting their people and others at terrible mortal risk makes me aghast. Here in the 21st Century, I feel I mimic Chicken Little that the sky is falling: which in deed it is. How can we understand that progress, improved health, more scientific research, better technology that has returned us to the dark age of superstition and ignorance. As always , it is the closed minded, self- propelled , egocentric worst version of mankind that has lead us – again-to the brink of disasters. That John Oliver and Steven Colbert rant and we laugh, it recalls the doomsayers of time past. And yet Kim Jun I talks of quietening down, even halting nuclear tests.

I want to see the beautiful, the good in life so I turn to the children. And so I find some hope in the James Comey interview with Colbert wherein he speaks of the positive, the good that has come from Trump’s bad, the dark hole in the demagogue that requires filling:Trump not possessing an exterior goalpost with which to measure his actions. Comey comments on the rise of the children from Parkland who inspired March for Our Lives against guns in Washington to change and counteract: the ministering angels.

In Comey’s interview with George Stephanopoulos , he said: “A person who sees moral equivalence in Charlottesville, who talks about and treats women like they’re pieces of meat, who lies constantly about matters big and small and insists the American people believe it: that person’s not fit to be president of the United States, on moral grounds.”

If morality is back in style, I approve of a stance that is self- reflective and aimed at the good of the people, not just one entitled individual. One does wonder how America, those who still maintain and cheer on the president, became so morally empty as to support Trump. And like Trump, they just don’t see it! With Colbert, Comey suggests there will be a backlash to making the presidency stronger. However, he also contends that like small brush fires, much damage can ensue, destroying what has been built up.

Strange times, in deed. Yet finally spring comes to Toronto so perhaps “ hope springs eternal”. I reserve my judgment.

Josh and The Tree

Yesterday was an interesting and very busy day for me, but at the centre of it was a tree being torn by its roots from the ground. Although it looked resoundingly healthy, two men were labouring to pull it, this way and that, from its place in an raised garden, the tree appearing to have been interspersed in a landscaped pattern with several other similar fir trees. In fact, just beside that lush vibrant one being forced from its spot was a decrepit brown thing of a ragged shrub that no one would have missed: but why had the exuberant green tree been the object of removal? I wondered why something so obviously healthy and green was being tugged, twisted and yanked with the aid of shovels and two labouring strong men. Was it obscuring the view of the window behind? Was it going to be repositioned a foot to the right?It felt incomprehensible that such a beautiful living tree was being wrestled and removed.

Later that day I attended a shiva. I’m not one for funerals or their aftermath, but I felt there was no choice but to hike up to Thornhill to honour the memory of cousin Josh. Because I am perceived as not very friendly, taciturn, aloof and self absorbed, even when I make these kinds of gestures, I am sometimes rebuffed so I quake even before entering the homes of the dearly departed. But I was welcomed and the visit reminded me of that tree. Josh and his brother Velvoo had endured during the holocaust( from the stories told second hand by my mother) as hiding and barely surviving in the woods in Poland, eventually playing minor roles in the French resistance until transported to England. As the years pass, I am less certain of details, even wondering why I was named for Josh’s mother, unclear about the familial ties, particularly as so many years back first cousins had intermarried one another so the Ash, Labor and Guttmann families resembled balls of twisted wool whose strands cannot be separated.

Certainly I knew a homeless Josh was taken in by my grandparents and raised as their own son in Canada. Later, married and with children, he was always at the Rosh Hashana, Passover and weekly Sunday gatherings. But to my mind, I will always associate him with doing a mean kazutska, or one of those Russian dances where armed crossed on the chest, always performed by a male, drops to the ground, then springs back high into the air, much like a Jack in the box, arms spread wide.The highlight of every bar mitzvah, the nibble Josh could continue in his drop, pop and stretch, propelling himself upward for almost 10 minutes. And we would gather round in a circle, our mouths gaping in awe : that the wild coordination of arms up, legs out, bum just missing the floor could be accomplished- and in time with the music. But as life goes on, families drift further, only coming together on simchas or shivas so my last brief encounter with Josh was at my mother’s shiva where I think he was reprimanding me for something. Whatever it was, it ended with a smile and I think I lied by saying, “Sure, we’ll visit you when we’re in your area, “maybe even believing momentarily we would.

At his shiva, his children related that Josh at almost 92 had had a good death and all the numerous children and grandchildren had gathered at his bed hours before his passing and he smiled and squeezed hands, a tear in his eye, but cognitively aware of the situation, accepting, even joking his wife Malcah had better ditch her boyfriend, because he was coming. A shiva is a bittersweet thing, laughing and enjoying the memories of happier days, but bereaved that no more memories with the departed are possible…no matter the age of the age of the person passing.

And later still that day, a small dinner party with people I hadn’t seen in years. Lovely, quiet, thoughtful with interesting conversations. And I thought about how all of us had been buffeted by time, our edges made smoother, rounded, our faces and bodies altered and shaped by dislocations, the pull and torments of life, loss and change. In deed, our own leaves having turned or dropped, but still we were all more or less recognizable as the saplings we all had once been too, resembling that robust tree being yanked earlier, fighting to hold its ground.

My mind flew back to that silly Barbara Walter’s interview with Katharine Hepburn when Walters queried,” If you were a tree, which would you be?”

And I thought I would be one of those dazzling magnolia trees with huge splendiferous white and purple blooms that cannot help but draw your attention on one sparkling day , but only for a day or so, but then reverts back to its quiet unnoticeable state, just playing its role in the role of trees, doing its treelike things. Like Josh’s famous celebration dance, I wonder how I will be remembered, what image will be associated with me, when I am pulled from the ground to return to the ground.

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