The Parallel Parliament

by Glen Pearson

Tag: maturity

Scrawling in the Snow

A NUMBER OF PEOPLE HAVE ASKED if these blog posts are availableScreen Shot 2016-02-10 at 5.40.56 PM in book form and the answer is “yes”. The Parallel Parliament posts for 2015 can be acquired here in hard cover and in paperback, and here as a free download from the iBooks store. You’ll also find other recent books there that I’ve written on Don Quixote, and a couple of novels on Paris and Africa.

My very first book was a novel about a Spitfire pilot in the Battle of Britain – written when I was 12 on a Brother portable typewriter my parents gave me for Christmas. Why did I write it? I had no idea back then, but I’ve come to realize that each of these books or blog posts have to be written. I’m up writing at 4:30 each morning, not because I’m disciplined but because I’m eager to get to my laptop and put down the things I believe or that I have recently learned.

It’s a fascinating thing to learn why other people put themselves through the arduous task of written composition. Albert Camus said the purpose of putting pen to paper is to, “keep civilization from destroying itself.” The beautiful and moving poet, Maya Angelou wrote because, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Maybe that’s one of the reasons her most famous book is titled, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

One of the best insights on this subject came from Rainer Rilke, who, when asked by an aspiring writer why one should take up the discipline, thoughtfully replied:

This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your while life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.

It’s fair to say that this adequately describes my life, as it has done for decades. I’ve built the hours of my days and nights around the urge to put my observations of life down on paper or on a digital screen. It’s not because I think I’m intelligent, but because my life has been too full of lessons to let them pass by unnoticed. In this sense my purpose for writing aligns somewhat with Henry David Thoreau’s insight: “How vain is it to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live?” I have lived and have the scars to prove it. But I also have the life lessons to show for all my experiences – most good, some bad. The issue for me isn’t so much about success or failure, but what I have learned from both and if I have become a more noble soul as a result. And then there is the greatest question of all that forms the motive for much of the best writing: have we lived for a larger purpose, for life outside of ourselves, for others? It is the very practice of writing that has kept me judging myself by these principles.

It’s likely few read my writings, and it’s even more likely that they’re not very good. But they are real to me, and that is what matters, whether they reach others or not. Sometimes our greatest reason for putting our thoughts down has nothing to do with anyone else. Maybe that’s what Margaret Atwood meant when she wrote with that powerful pen of hers: “Perhaps I write for no one. Perhaps for the same person children are writing for when they scrawl their names in the snow.”

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.

 

What the Morning Never Suspected

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WE ALL REGARD BEAUTY DIFFERENTLY, EACH OF US with our own interpretation of it. My own definition of it hasn’t altered much over the years, but it has definitely deepened. Much of my early life was spent in the Rocky Mountains – a vista spectacular enough to remain embedded in the mind and memory for a lifetime. It was likely there that I came to understand beauty as symmetry – a balancing of numerous factors that ultimately inspires the soul, transcends the mind, and creates its own desire for pursuit.

All this is just a prologue to my wife Jane’s 50th birthday today. She is beautiful in her own right, but it’s the way that her life and actions are so poignantly balanced that has confirmed for me that true beauty grows over the years instead of being diminished. In a world full of opinions, she quietly lives out truth. In a world of so much suffering, she continues to find hope. In a world of words, she fervently takes action. In a world where the “immediate” takes precedence, she has pursued the transcendent.

She is also beautiful because she chases after beautiful realities – her children, great mountains, vast oceans, the diversity of the natural world, those who suffer on the margins, and a knowledge of history. Her pursuit of them has been so persistent and overpowering that the loveliness of those things have crept into her nature, her smile, her belief in life. Whether she realizes it or not, her great quest for beauty in the world exists because she carries it within her. In fact, the reasons she has discovered such wonders in the world is because it was her own beauty of spirit that drove her on – she would never have discovered them if she hadn’t possessed beauty herself. Or, as Khalil Gibran, one of her favourite poets put it, “The appearance of things changes according to emotions; and thus we see magic and beauty in them, while the magic and beauty are really in ourselves.” That is Jane.

In the intricate balancing of her life, Jane has defeated age because of the depths and impulsiveness of her spirit. When poet Robert Frost noted that, “the afternoon knows what the morning never suspected,” he unwittingly described Jane’s life. Did she know as a child the compassionate role she would live as the years passed? Likely not. But today she will – many of us will make sure of that. She took beauty and instead of protecting it, risked it for the sake of others. And in the process of her remarkable life she gave beauty wings to reach the forsaken, hands to feed the hungry, arms to carry her family (including me), and a spirit with which to transcend this world. In other words, she humanized beauty, making it reachable for all of us.

A few weeks ago, I pressed her repeatedly to do something special for her 50th. I offered her a special trip or gifts. She looked up from her book, hair splayed in every direction, wearing an old sweatshirt, and sporting heavy socks to protect her from the chills, and said, “You know, why don’t we have a birthday party as a fundraiser for the people of Sudan?” I looked at her, smiled, and understood that she had never been more beautiful than in that moment. Her life is a testimony to beauty on the move.

So, if any are in London this coming Sunday, look over the poster below and think of joining us to remember 50 years spent with deep commitment to the human spirit. Beauty should be celebrated.

Sudan 2014

 

 

 

 

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.

Thoughts on a Birthday

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I have now had 63 birthdays and, as always, I grow more thoughtful on my birthday.  The life expectancy of a man in Canada is 80 years of age.  In China it’s 74; in South Sudan it’s 53.  So, I’m doing okay.

But birthdays are also measured by other standards as well.  For all of us there are the physical alterations on our countenance.  If I could speak honestly, I love all my wrinkles; it’s as if they’ve been inhabited by the depths of life and experience.  They need to be deep so as to house all that I have been through in my years.  Our faces should look like homes for the depths of life, or else they remain merely empty show houses.

I looked at my face last night and realized that it had altered slightly because of the chemo and a serious operation.  Truthfully, I kind of like it; I not only survived the difficulties, but I’m better for them – healthier, more focused, grateful.

Inevitably, I always get around to the question many of us ask on our special day: have I made a difference?  We all have this desire that our lives would matter, and that they especially would have bettered the fate of others in our world.  Jarod Kintz’s observation always gets to me in this regard:

“The year you were born marks only your entry into the world.  Other years where you prove your worth, they are the ones worth celebrating.”

There have been those years in my life more characterized by failure than achievement, but then again I have to remind myself that even in those difficult years, wisdom is the reward I received for surviving them and becoming better as a result of what I learned.

In one area I have been fortunate enough to have kept my head above water – maintaining the ideals of my youth.  They burn just as they did when I was in high school, only the flame is more focused, capable of giving off more light, and with a more gentle heat.  If only I could live up to them in a better fashion, for I know that people don’t grow old depending on the numbers of years they live, but by how much they shed their ideals as the years wear on.  What we do with our ideals determines the quality and effectiveness of our lives – an enduring reality of history.  The real differences between us are not measured by our variety of ideals but whether we actually lived by them.  It is a high standard.

Our birthdays mark something special: the day we arrived and became a part of the overall composite of humankind.  It could have existed without us, yes, but the real question is: did it improve with us?  When our birthdays came around, did we measure ourselves by this reality?  Instead of asking what we expect from life, did we ask instead if it actually got from us what our ultimate potential could give it?

Like all parents, mine had hopes for me.  They had survived the Depression and Second World War. Theirs was a world huge in its implications and I’m sure they hoped I would sacrifice for its future the way that they had.  This was their responsibility as parents, and the fact I understand shows just how well they did their job.  But the gap between knowing and doing is huge and can only be closed by the dedicated life – something I still need to work on.

So this morning I commiserate with my earlier years and thank God that in some ways I’m more different from who I was.  A wonderful family provides consolation on the journey of growth and reminds us that a family’s true attachment is not one of mere blood, but of the growing respect and joy in each other’s life.  Families hardly ever grow in the same geographical place, but wherever they live, they grow, and mine is no different.  I thank God for each of them every day.

Friends come to us by choice and remain by affection and shared purpose.  I have some terrific ones and the success of my growth is in direct correlation to their love and patience.

So, on my birthday I only ask that God keep me growing and that my life be measured more by my contribution to others rather than anything I have received from it personally.  But in this one way I never want to change.  Life gave me ideals and they have never forsaken me.  Even more remarkable, I have maintained them as the jewels of my life.  All these years can’t take away the same power those values displayed in my youth.  I marvel at them for their ability to take the years and sculpt them into remarkable works of art.  And if they can have their way with us, they will assure that, despite many attempts and failures, our lives become more about sacrifice and growth than complacency and security.  I am one such man and the years aren’t done with me yet. 

Remember the words in the Pink Floyd song Free Four: “The memories of a man in his old age are the deeds of a man in his prime?” That’s not me; I’m still discovering my prime and my memories are being built today.  And on this, my special day, thanks to all those who keep steering me in that direction.

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