The Parallel Parliament

by Glen Pearson

Tag: growth

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.

 

More Than DNA

Fathers-Day

“THE HEART OF A FATHER IS THE MASTERPIECE OF NATURE.” Really? Antoine Francois wrote that a long time ago, but I sense I have fallen far short of that kind of nobility of soul. Because fathers never stop learning, it is almost impossible to arrive at anything near a “masterpiece”. Fatherhood itself is a series of rites of passage – births, first days of school, graduation, marriages, grandkids – which, no matter how many times they are experienced, leaves one with the feeling that we never get it quite right.

Most people are cursed with the idea that if only they could acquire something externally that they would be better people. Extra money, a better job, more patience or kindness, a sense of purpose – these are the usual suspects rolled out as objects worth procuring if we are to be more complete as humans. Because children, as they mature, constantly press the boundaries of their respective worlds, fathers always have to respond to so many challenges over the years that it can easily leave one with the sense that they can never be good enough to be the “masterpiece” dad.

Fortunately, in the great Circle of Life, there is a remedy inherent with humanity that eventually exposes the fallacy of such thinking. Over the years we come to realize that the great virtues of personality are not something external for which to reach but impulses that reside within us that must emerge over time. The cure for our underperformance is already housed in the very desire we feel to be better fathers to our children. The great religious teachers, moralists, and philosophers have always shown the way on this but in the pressures of living they are lessons often overlooked or forgotten entirely. The belief that we are better than our performance would indicate is one of the great drivers in human progress – and in fatherhood.

In this is the great genius of life and guardianship. We don’t become better guides for our children in order that we might assist them through life. It is actually the opposite: their very presence in our lives is what makes us fit to supervise their journey into adulthood. Those who witnessed the life of Abraham Lincoln never comprehended the depths of his soul until they saw him rolling on the floor with his children. The tenderness of such moments transcended the pressures of leading in wartime and introduced the world to a man of vastly deep treasures of human compassion.

In a very real way it is our children, through the very experience of raising them, that make us fit to mentor them. Love is not only the greatest parenting strategy there is; it actually is the great former and shaper of the parents themselves. It is their children that call those deep resources within their moms and dads to live at such a level where love can be free to operate.

For this reason many of us will never get over our fathers. We were never meant to because we, as their children, had a hand in raising them, in broadening understanding, in deepening their hearts. God put children in our lives for that very reason. People don’t become perfect, then have kids. They are blessed with parenthood and then learn to fill that responsibility as the years progress.

With seven children blessing my life, it is likely that any real strength of character or compassion that I have shown was refined by their very presence in my life, gracing my years and making me a better person. For all my failures, I have succeeded when they have been free to shape me. And now that I have four grandchildren, it is likely that such a refinement will continue until my final breath.

At times I wonder what it must be like for my kids to have walked along with me in this life. How do they see me? For all the benefits they have brought to me, have I sufficiently helped in preparing them for the rigors of life? Do they see me as a companion or some kind of distant moral instructor? I would hope it is the former, because that is what I have desired most. I have always concurred with Martin Luther King’s great observation that, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” But that bending best happens in companionship and friendship, and I can only pray that my kids see me in such a light.

It is my ultimate hope that my relationship with my children is more than just about DNA. That’s a natural passing on of the building blocks of life. But the other stuff – the love, respect, gratitude, lessons learned, and just sheer companionship – is what I hope they can perceive. To a very large degree they raised me, protected me, drew out some of the better parts of me. On this Father’s Day I can only thank them for their ongoing love and faithfulness. I have become a better man for their very willingness to engage with me and point me in the direction of a better humanity. On this special day, if there is any gratitude to be expressed it is from one blessed father to his remarkable children.

Humanity – It’s Indifference

One of modernism’s great paradoxes has been its inability to solve its own problems. It sounds counter-intuitive but that’s the way it’s working out in real-time. In my youth, I recall reading my father’s Popular Science magazines and learning in fascination of how cars would be emission free, modern communications would end conflict, and how the development of new seeds would spell the end to world famine. I grew up believing my future world would be better than my present. I was wrong, and so was Popular Science.

With so many advances in science, how is it that climate change now has us by the throat? In a world of spreading capitalism, how did it come to be that we have rising unemployment around the world and poverty escalating at troubling rates? How is it that, instead of tying into new energy grids from new technologies, that we are now debating whether to support one oil pipeline that will lead to China or another heading to the southern US? And what happened to ending world hunger?

We feel helpless in all of this. More confounding is the reality that our leaders are just as lost as we are. All this technology, money, resources, talent, and yet we can’t mount a serious challenge to what we are facing.

And so we pull into ourselves. In difficult economic times it is often true that our vision can’t seek past the borders of our own communities. Essentially we are fearful. We fatefully come to believe that we can at least solve our own civic problems while leaving to global challenges to others. Hearing of 18 million people presently facing impending starvation in the Sahel region of Africa troubles us, but, hey, that’s someone else’s problem. While the inherent desire of our citizens is for a more peaceful and cooperative future for all of humanity, it is sadly ironic that it’s other values to which we hold that often place us at odds and in competition with the struggling people in other parts of the world.

Our capacity to imagine novel, more equitable and better futures is a vital evolutionary tool in humans. Our utopian dreams and guiding visions, can play an important catalytic role in helping us to transcend the constraints of our limited existences. By shutting out the problems of the greater world we actually show ourselves to be less human, not more. The moment we concentrate only on our own families or friends, we unknowingly lose a piece of our humanity. When we can care about the homeless or the hungry in our community but turn a deaf ear to the pleas from overseas, we lose a chance at our own greatness.

I was asked by someone in a radio interview from the United States last week what was it that I believed to be the opposite of humanity. Good question. “It’s indifference,” I finally said, and the more I thought about it, the more I thought there was some truth in it, at least in my limited experience. The opposite of humanity isn’t inhumanity, but indifference. The opposite of compassion isn’t emotional hardness, but indifference. The opposite of great faith isn’t unbelief – it’s indifference. The opposite of Canada’s potential for a more equitable future isn’t bad politics – it’s indifference. The opposite of a broader life of consciousness isn’t self-centredness – it’s indifference. The opposite of effective community engagement isn’t loss of faith in democracy – it’s indifference. It’s as Helen Keller used to say, “Science may have found a cure for most evils; but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all – the apathy of human beings.”

One of the crowning delusions of our age is the modern penchant for balance over justice. People, too smart by half, have taken to discussing the merits of various sides on some of our greatest challenges. As with any other helpful trait, balance can easily lead to inaction. Objectivity can often mask for indifference.  Hearing from all sides means nothing if it can’t lead to greater justice for the oppressed. We’ve been living in the Information Age for a couple of decades now and yet our challenges are ever greater. Data, fact, statistics, parity, balance – none of these things have improved our lot, merely informed them. No, what we lack is humanity – the ability to utilize our conscious will to take stands, risk our security for the sake of others, believe that compassion supersedes commerce, and personal integrity trumps public information.

Being human, productively human, means getting outside of ourselves and actually changing the circumstances of others – in our community, country, the world – through the casting of our best instincts against the broader problems of the age, not just our own difficulties. We have become so good at voicing the language, parroting the words of the great compassionate voices of history on Facebook or Twitter, and being content with knowledge instead of action, that we run the risk of committing one, or even all, of the seven deadly sins, Mahatma Gandhi spoke of so forcefully.

Wealth without work

Pleasure without conscience

Science without humanity

Knowledge without character

Politics without principle

Commerce without morality

Worship without sacrifice

Being human is all about ridding our lives of the excuses for inaction. We all fail on these seven issues, but being human means getting bent out of shape about it so that I don’t fail others. The great challenges of the age can no longer be met by knowledge alone, but will.

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