The Parallel Parliament

by Glen Pearson

Tag: family

Century Thoughts

MEMORIES OF HIM DROP FROM THE SKIES like snowflakes lightly touching the ground. On December 15th, 1916, a rather frail baby was born in a home in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan – an arrival that, in part at least, led to my own journey.

Lloyd Durward Pearson was my father, and that obscure birth 100 years ago today launched him into an era of seismic happenings. He was born in the middle of the First World War (1914–1918), and looking back on it now I realize that he never really got the chance to enjoy a comfortable youth. Like millions of his generation, he entered adolescence on the heels of a world conflict that cost 17 million lives and a further 20 million wounded only to face a Great Depression that drove millions of others into poverty, including his own parents and five sisters.

Then, just as he stood on the threshold of a career and perhaps a family, the next great global conflict – World War Two (1939-1945) erupted and his personal dream lay in ruins.

But not his ideals. His belief in a better world led him into the conflict where he met my mother at a dance in Edinburgh, Scotland, while on leave. They married shortly after, spending their wedding night in a green Scottish pasture because there literally was no room in any of the inns. After five years, he was severely wounded in action and shipped back home.

Following the war it took him years to fully recover from his wounds, but at last he succeeded, becoming part of the great middle-class boom in the post-war years. We never owned a home while I was with them and the tentacles of poverty were always hovering, threatening. But with both Dad and Mom working we became more comfortable.

It is difficult to skip over the millions of occurrences that transpired during those years, but I’ve come to see my father as part of what journalist Tom Brokaw called “the greatest generation.” It wasn’t so much because of what that cohort achieved economically that made their contributions significant, but how what they experienced spiritually and morally shaped their lives – and those of their families. What else should we have expect from a generation that had to face two world wars and a crippling depression – all at the time they were endeavouring to achieve adulthood?

I have come to see myself as a product not of my parent’s economic potential but as the beneficiary of an ethical ethos that believed poverty represented a sin of humankind, and that waging the struggle of peace to divert war was a noble aspiration.

Dad never got over the two world wars and another decade of the Depression. He never could fully enjoy what wealth he was able to acquire because he was old beyond his years before he ever became economically comfortable. And so he could never remain isolated. The world had to be made better. Neighbours in need had to be helped. Kids needed an education. Communities had to have a heart not just houses. And, to him, Canada had to become the example of what the world could be if people just respected one another’s potential and right to share the same land and opportunity.

In the end, my Dad had seen too much, endured untold tragedy, to be happy in his material comforts. If he was alive today, on this his 100th birthday, his thoughts would naturally drift to Aleppo and Mosul, to the homeless and refugees, and to those who opted to live their lives for others. The rigors of life had fashioned a wise human with scars, physical and emotional, out of him and he would never be content just enjoying his birthday.

And, so, I will try to live this day in the same fashion. A man born a century ago and who departed this life some 40 years in the past, will continue to teach me lessons and humble me with his commitment to others. In another two years my mother will would have reached her century mark, if only she hadn’t passed decades ago, and I will learn from her anew as well.

This is just the thing about being human: those who have gone on before us still have much to teach us and memories to stir in our consciousness. And blessed are those children, like me, who get to experience the belief that we live our lives best when we live for things greater than ourselves. If that understanding came from those who are no longer with us, then the greatest things in life will never leave us, but hopefully fashion us to struggle to give this world a chance in a troubled time. Love you, Dad, for this, the greatest gift that can be offered – life with meaning.

Mothers: The Gift of Endurance

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With Mom in Calgary (1960)

MY MOTHER WOULD HAVE BEEN 98 THIS YEAR.  Losing her some 35 years ago was difficult; today she is my constant companion.

Meeting my father when he was on leave in Edinburgh, Scotland, during World War Two introduced her to a future she could never have predicted. She became a Scottish war bride in 1944 by marrying her Canadian soldier. There was lots of that in those days, and the hotels were so full that they had to spend their summer wedding night in a cow pasture. It was likely to be her last moment of real peace before the madness of war and personal tumult invaded her world.

Six months later she received a telegram from the War Department, saying that Dad had been missing and presumed killed in the Italian campaign. I kept that telegram for years. Devastated, like so many other remarkable young women of that time, she maintained her work schedule at the local munitions factory and attempted to bury the pain.

D-Day was occupying everyone’s mind and correspondence was heavily censored so that no secrets would be revealed. Only when the invasion was accomplished did she receive a telegram from Canada. It was from my father in Calgary, in convalescence from being shot twice – he had, in fact, survived. He wondered why she hadn’t contacted him after he sent all those letters saying he was struggling after being sent back to Canada from hospital in North Africa. Letters had been held up because of the military campaign and he had never known she had received the telegram saying he had perished.

Proceeding by ship to Canada, she met my Dad in Calgary as they tried to build a life together. My brother and I were born during that time (1945 and 1950 respectively), but my father’s wounds meant he was incapable of solid work. It was then determined that she should take the kids back to Scotland while he attempted to find employment. So here was this struggling woman, with a five-year old and a nine-month old, taking the train back to Montreal for the return journey to her homeland. Five years later Dad found a job with Imperial Oil and asked her to return, which she did within the year.

The following years were anything but easy for Mom, including bouts of alcoholism and depression – the reason I haven’t written of this until now. It was never easy, but through it all she walked me to school, taught me to put others first, to never forget Scotland, to throw myself into life rather than backing into it, and in the process I loved her with a full heart.

How did she do it? How did she manage to keep it all together when the entire world, including her own, was literally falling apart? In my mind, it was a miracle of tenacity in a world of unsurely – one of the legacies mothers leave to the human race. Some moms believe they have to train their kids to carry themselves in a cruel world. Fair enough, but Mom continued to remind me to play a role in actually making the world a bit more kind and just – remarkable. The training of her children was her direct answer to a supposedly hopeless world. I was her downpayment to a better future – God, what a thought. And what a responsibility!

Dorothy Fisher once wrote: “A mother is not a person to lean on, but a person to make leaning unnecessary.” But if that is so, why do I tilt so much towards her now? Because I need her? No, because I love her, just as I did following my first breath and her last. Catherine Wiseman Pearson – a woman of her time who transcends all time, of her generation and every generation. I am her son. I love you, Mom.

A Noble Share

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“DO YOU FEEL OLD, POP POP?” my granddaughter asked, knowing that my 65th birthday was coming today, December 26th. Well, Annie, here’s my answer.

I sure look older. I can still run, jump, and play, but not like I used to. Every time I put on my glasses to read I’m reminded of how many years have passed. And yet I now have more friends in my library than back then, and I have relationships with each of them. Yes, I require glasses to read them, but with the wisdom that comes with years I now understand them better than I did when clear-eyed. They are my books, and should I go blind tomorrow I will be no poorer, for I can recite some of them by heart and love the principles hidden within them with more power and intensity than I could in youth. They now help me see with an understanding that only comes with the advancement of years.

I now see things I could never discern in my youth. I hear music in my heart that previously I could only get in some kind of speaker. No, it doesn’t boom and bounce the way the rock and roll of my teens did, but it now aligns the world for me, reminding me that the interior life is as equally to be treasured as an active outer one. Those things I wondered and fretted over in earlier times have found their proper alignment in my life and I can now travel my years guided by my ideals rather than fear or insecurity. As twilight has come to my years, the sky is now alight with stars that I never saw in the bright sunshine of my youth and I find I can be guided by them.

My years are many, but their fullness now transcends the many decades that preceded this moment. I see the wonders and tragedies of life through a kaleidoscope of experience and they are indeed remarkable. I don’t need to relive my life, but build upon all the lessons it has taught me, reaching ever higher in a universe of possibility. The lessons my parents taught me, I can now live and understand their necessity and beauty. I have truly become their child because I have lived their counsel and found it to be sound.

Strangely, I find myself as restless as when I was young, but it is an urge to heal my world, to enjoy its millennia of wisdom, to fulfill its promise of love. There is that fire to do away with hatred in the world, to honour the equality of the sexes, to defeat the forces of poverty, and to forge peace among the peoples of the world. It is not be confused with the blind passions of youth; it is instead the fire of a soul conquered by the abiding values of life.

I sometimes ponder the beauty of my family for hours, their memory and personalities more fulsome and exciting than any Hollywood movie for me. In my quietest moments I am the most entertained. And I pray, thanking God for the quietness and assurance that comes with age. Such is the richness of the accumulation of years.

So, yes, Annie, I feel older. I have wrinkles and I stoop a bit more than I used to. But all those signs of age I have happily traded for the insight of wisdom, a love for God, family, and humanity, and sense that the ethical contribution of every person adds to our collective healing and progress. I have had a noble share in that life that I can only enjoy in these later years. The poet Robert Frost once spoke about, “The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.” Well, it’s now the evening for me, so just think of how much I have learned. Time physically erodes us all, but builds up character at the same time – nothing is wasted.

I am restless for the completeness of humanity at the same time that I am content with my own place within it – a miracle only possible through the all the years that I have passed through before now. Despite my frailties, I nevertheless feel at one with my ideals. It is enough.

I know you won’t understand these words until you’re older Annie, but you will learn that they come to pass in the life of anyone who wants to live for things greater than herself.  Your journey will be unique, but it will be along a path already travelled by the best of humanity.  I’ll be watching.

 

It All Starts With Words

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FORMER SLAVE AND ACTIVIST DURING the Civil War era, Frederick Douglass, spent much of his childhood in very difficult circumstances.  But he wanted to learn, and when he got the chance he jumped at it.  Learning to read introduced him, not only to Abraham Lincoln, but to a whole new world of freedom for himself and others.  He affirmed that very truth when he wrote, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”

I was honoured to be asked to write a guest blog for this This IS Literacy – a terrific London, Ontario organization that promotes and supports literacy for not just children, but entire families.  I wrote about my own children whom we adopted from Sudan and the challenge we faced when they first came to Canada eight years ago.  They had never learned to read nor write, but our greatest task was to help them recover a childhood they had never had, and for that it would take words.

You can link to the blog post here, but better yet, visit This Is Literacy’s website and see how a community that wishes to discover itself has to first begin with the power of words.

 

Life Values

“The biggest thing we get out of it is seeing the kids smile. And hopefully we will also see that the lessons we’re teaching – not only the fundamentals of hockey, but also the life values – are sinking in.”

… Bobby Orr

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