Tag Archive: safety


rice pudding

I woke this morning knowing that I was going to make rice pudding for breakfast. Despite the simplicity of its preparation, I have only made rice pudding three times in my life, so the strength of my conviction that we were having rice pudding for breakfast is somewhat of a mystery.

rice pudding

Photo Credit: cyclonebill; Licence: Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

I know that rice pudding is traditionally a dessert but it is definitively labelled in my mind as a breakfast item. I know that my mom made rice pudding when I was a kid, and I can only assume she served it for breakfast, thereby creating the association. But I can’t trust my memory. My memories of childhood are so poor that I think I must have been in a coma for half my life and no one is telling me. I wish I were joking, but the reality is that most people I know can relate their childhood experiences in vivid detail while I sit there smiling politely, wondering what’s wrong with me.

My apparent childhood blackouts aside, I can say that rice pudding is a comfort food for me. I didn’t wake feeling any particular desire to be comforted, but when I sat down with my family to eat the pudding, a smile burst forth on my lips, and a warmth circulated through me.

When the kids were finished eating their pudding, both boys came to me separately to thank me for making them a delicious breakfast.  Zachary, my 3-year-old, actually made a point of finding me upstairs where I was employed in the glamorous task of cleaning out the bathroom sink drain. He gave me a hug, thanked me for breakfast, and then on his way down the stairs he commented to his mother that the rice pudding “was sooo yummy.”  Clearly, the rice pudding was a hit.

Sometimes my kids are so sweet I can only assume they have an agenda. And sometimes they do.  But then there are the occasions where their sweetness is genuine.  For all the times their antics make me think I’m going to lose my mind; for all the times I am driving to a symphony of sibling rivalry and I toy with the idea of  stopping the car and dumping the kids by the side of the road;  for all the seventeen thousand times I’ve had to tell one of them to stop picking his nose or to wash his hands or to flush the toilet or to sit up straight at the table or… or… or…  Those rice pudding moments make absolutely everything right again.

Today, I am thankful for… well, rice pudding, I guess.  I’m thankful for these talismans of tradition, the vehicles into which we pour our comforts and memories and transmit them to our children to be carried forth into future generations.  For some, they are lockets, or vases, or figurines.  For me, it is rice pudding.

I picture my boys, older.  Maybe they haven’t achieved something they worked hard for, maybe they’ve lost someone special to them, maybe work is stressful.  Then maybe they start cooking some rice on the stove and the soft bubbling of the thickening liquid calms them.  They add their milk or cream, then vanilla, cinnamon, raisins, reducing everything to a creamy consistency and filling their homes with a sweet aroma.

And if their memories of their childhood are better than mine, maybe they’ll remember the stillness of that one Sunday morning when the sun peeked through the window and they ate a breakfast that warmed their bellies, while they sat with people they loved and in whose presence they felt safe and happy. And maybe they’ll have little ones who will give them big hugs afterwards and thank them for yummy breakfasts.

Then maybe, for a little while, the world will be right again.

shutter

Photo Credit: James F. Cline III; Licence: Public Domain

Photo Credit: James F. Cline III; Licence: Public Domain

National Geographic today released the results of their 2013 World Photo Press Contest, which awards news photographers for astounding work completed in the previous year.  It’s well worth a gander.

I was so struck by some of the photographs that I knew instantly I had to write something about it.  If you’re a writer — and by “writer,” I don’t mean that you have something published, or that you’re recognized for your writing, but simply that, when you are moved by something, you know that you will be restless until you can write about it — you will know that sometimes there is an irrepressible imperative to share your thoughts with the world by writing them.  My first thought looking at the photographs was that they made me feel grateful for many things.  My second thought was that I’ve written about all of those things in other posts, so it would be cheating to say I’m thankful for them again (even though I am continually grateful for them).

Some of the feelings of gratitude the photographs elicited?

Let’s start with the first photograph in the series, taken by Paul Hansen, and which won First Prize.  Moving in a most breathtakingly devastating way, it depicts family members carrying two Palestinian children to their funeral after they were killed when an Israeli missile struck their home.

Nothing but nothing makes me feel more helpless than when children die.  Nothing but nothing makes me more furious than when children are the victims of violence.  But I also feel gratitude.  I am chilled at the thought of losing my child to something so senseless, and I am so profoundly thankful that I live somewhere that is not war-ravaged.  This isn’t to delude myself into a false sense of security.  Who knows what the future holds?  The parents of the children who attended Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut thought their kids were safe too.  But, still: it stands to reason that, when missiles are flying around your ears, people are going to get hurt, and eventually those people are going to be children.

But I’ve already talked about my appreciation for my safety and the safety of my family.

Let’s look next at Second Prize winner in the News Single category.  This photograph, snapped by a very brave Emin Özmen, depicts a man being tortured by Syrian Opposition Fighters by, I gather, having his feet whipped, for being a suspected government informant.  I can’t fathom the searing pain he must have experienced.  I am so grateful that I live in a country where torture is illegal, and where it is not so commonplace that torturers seem to have no problem with being photographed doing it.

But I’ve already written about my gratitude for the country in which I live and the basic human rights which that country protects.

I’m moved too by the First Prize winner in the Contemporary Issues Single category.  Photographed by Micah Albert, the picture shows a Kenyan woman taking a break from her labour picking through trash at a dump near the slums where she lives.  She’s sitting, reading through a book she found at the dump.  I live in such a wasteful culture, and we dissociate ourselves from the waste so easily because we’ve worked out this great system where we ship it off and hide it in giant landfills.  The concept of someone making a living from picking through garbage is a pure testament to so much of what is wrong with the world.

But I’ve already mentioned by thankfulness for having a meaningful job, and my gratefulness for having so many luxuries and amenities in life.  I’ve even expressed gratitude for books.

I think the most astounding of all of the photographs in the series is one by Fausto Podavini which claimed First Prize in the Daily Life Stories category.  It shows Mirella, a 71-year-old Italian woman, assisting her husband Luigi — who has dementia — drying off after a shower.  I am so thankful that I have the full capacity of my mind, and thankful too for the ones who love us and take care of us even when we have lost so much of who we are.

But I’ve already discussed my gratitude for family and those who stick with us through thick and thin.  I’ve expressed thankfulness for my health.

I find the photographic talent represented by this series of award winners to be mesmerizing.  They haven’t just snapped a picture: they’ve captured a moment.  It is their work that has helped me revisit and remember so many of the things that make me a lucky person each day.

And so, although it seems inadequate or trivial given the content of the photographs I’ve shared, today I am thankful for photography and photographers.  I would have such little insight into what goes on in the world — both the heinous and the beautiful — if it weren’t for the fact that those things have been brought to my doorstep through the efforts of others in capturing those realities and bringing them to my doorstep.

alive

baby

Photo Credit: Carin Araujo; Used with Permission

Shortly after I turned 1, my mother was holding me in her arms while I burned through a fever.  Suddenly, my eyes rolled back, and my body began moving rhythmically. I was having a seizure. While my father held me, my mother ran frantically to the house of a neighbour, who was a registered nurse.  My father has told me that, while he held me, I stopped breathing.  My mother returned with the neighbour, Vedra, who took control of the situation and, before long, I began breathing again and recovered.

A few months later, I had another seizure.  It was my brother’s birthday, and my family was planning to go out for dinner, but I had a fever and my mother suggested that my father and brother go out without us.  I began having the seizure and, again, Vedra came to the house and I recovered.

It was the last seizure I had.  I do not have epilepsy and the seizures were febrile, meaning that they were caused by a high fever.  It’s not an uncommon thing to happen to young children, who sometimes lag in developing the nervous system mechanisms to effectively control body temperature.

When my son was born, I was a worried that the problem might be genetic.  Every time he had a fever, I was terrified that it would happen to him.  What would I do?  During my first seizure, I stopped breathing.  Without a combination of several factors, I very likely would not have started breathing again, and what if my son wasn’t so lucky?

Today, I am thankful for a lot of things.  First, I am thankful for timing.  I had the seizures while I was being held by a parent and both my parents were present. My second seizure happened just as my father was about to leave the house. A few minutes later and my mom might have been alone, and I might not have fared so well, because it would be hard for one person both to respond to my needs in the moment and also seek help.  When my son had his fevers, I kept thinking: what if he has a seizure while he’s in bed?  He could stop breathing and I would never even know.

Second, I am thankful that my parents had the sense to run for help.  I think my mother rebukes herself for not really knowing what to do (I always say that perpetual guilt about one’s children is a sign of a good parent) but, really, which of us thinks straight when we perceive our children are in danger?  Once, while camping with Gregory (my eldest) and my friend Sarah, I asked Gregory several times not to walk along the seat of the picnic table, because I had the Coleman stove running, boiling water, and I was worried he might fall and either knock the pot of boiling water on himself, or set himself on fire.  Moments later, while he started walking along the bench again, he fell, with his arm hitting the stove.  That was when I made a complete departure from sense, which is a nice way of saying I went nuts.  I started alternating between screaming at him about needing to listen, and hugging him and asking him if he was alright.  He was perfectly fine, but in my mind, I had already decided he had burned himself, and I was panicking.  In the case of my seizures, I think that having the good sense to run to a neighbour who could handle the situation was the best anyone could expect.

Third, I am thankful that a registered nurse lived nearby, and that Vedra was able to help.  She is one of those every day heroes I like to talk about in this blog.

Without all of these things, I don’t know that I would be alive today, and that is certainly cause for gratitude.

freedom

freedom

Photo Credit: David Niblack; Licence: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported

Today was a difficult day.  Sometimes, working in mental health, you have to do things that feel wrong.  You have to keep reminding yourself that it’s right.  Sometimes, you’re even successful in convincing yourself of that.

Today, after having gone before a Justice of the Peace to argue that a person needs to be taken to the hospital to be assessed, I had to show up at that person’s home with police.  I had to help demonstrate at the hospital that she is ill enough to be involuntarily admitted for psychiatric assessment.  I had to stand by while she hurled a barrage of verbal assault at me for doing this to her, all of which was valid, even if what I was doing to her was necessary.  I had to wait with her in a cold, unfriendly hospital room for 7 hours while the hospital system tried to get its act together.  I had to ask her if there was anyone I could call for her, knowing as I asked what the answer would be: there is no one.

And through all of that, all I could think is how awful this entire experience was for her.  Here is this poor, lonely woman.  Her illness prevents her from understanding what is happening or why it is necessary.  All she knows is that she is surrounded by people she believes intend to harm her.  She is helpless.

Today, I am thankful for my freedom.  I am thankful that I am not plagued by a mental illness which necessitates involuntary confinement.  I am thankful that, in my home, I feel safe from the possibility of police showing up and taking me to a strange place when I haven’t done anything wrong.  I am thankful that I live in a place where I can express what I think, feel, and believe, knowing that, although I might be persecuted, I’m unlikely to be prosecuted.  I am thankful that I am not targeted because of my race, ethnicity, religion, or sex, and that I feel safe to walk through my city, day or night, without any significant fear that I will be attacked.  I am thankful that I live in a democracy. I am thankful for my freedom in so many ways. Most importantly, I am thankful that, if any of these things ever happen to me, I am not alone.

What does freedom mean to you?  Tell me about it in the Comments.

system

Some of you might be aware of a tragedy that occurred recently in Elliot Lake, a small rural town in northern Ontario. On June 23rd, a section of the rooftop parking deck of the Algo Centre Mall (Eastwood Mall) collapsed, killing two people and injuring several others. It was a tragedy not only in the sense that all deaths and disasters are tragic, but an even greater tragedy in that it was — in my opinion — completely preventable.

When a natural disaster wreaks havoc, we feel the immense loss and sadess of it all, but there is also a certain amount of acceptance that these things do happen and are part of the natural order of things. But when a building is neglected year after year and a tragedy results, it is difficult to derive any meaning from the experience, and the extreme anger felt by the community is very valid and justified.

A criminal investigation into this incident has been launched and a provincial probe is planned.  Until the findings are released, there is little judgment I can pass on any specific person or entity, but I have seen photographs that were taken in the months leading up to the tragedy and I can say that, even to a layperson, they spell danger.  I wasn’t surprised that the roof had collapsed; I was surprised it hadn’t happened sooner.

News reports have revealed that a structural assessment was conducted as recently as April, but obviously either no action was taken by the owner in response to deficiencies identified, or the engineering firm conducting the assessment failed miserably at what they were contracted to do.

Elliot Lake is not a wealthy city (that is even more true now that the roof collapse has thrown a bunch of people out of work).  In 2006, census results listed mean household income at $36,366, 45% less than the mean provincial household income at $66,600.  A good friend, who grew up in Elliot Lake, commented after the incident that people in the town have known for years that the mall was falling apart and that something like this was going to happen sooner or later.  She told me that complaints have been lodged but, because people who live in the town are “poor,” they will put up with it and still patronize the mall because they have no alternative.  There is probably at least a grain of truth to that, and it is appalling thought.  Economic forces might be at work that prevent the owner from keeping the building looking modern and updated, but if people or companies are unable or unwilling to take responsibility for the basic safety of the building they own, then it’s time to get out of the business, and there should be stiff punishments for those who don’t — stiff punishments pinned to the offender before the owner’s dereliction results in injury or death.

Readers familiar with the theme of this blog are no doubt wondering how and when I plan to extract gratitude from this situation.  I work as a property administrator and, when I am working with contractors to bring a project to fruition, I am often frustrated by all of the hoops through which we have to jump.  I have joked with contractors, “you need a permit to wipe your butt, nowadays.”  But, as frustrated as I am by the process, I am thankful that the process exists, because all of those safety regulations and standards are what keep disasters like the Eastwood Mall collapse from happening more often than they do.

This tragedy never should have happened, but I am glad that there are systems in place to try to prevent this exact sort of thing from happening.  Today, I am thankful for when those systems do work.

home

There is a vendor I’ve been working with for the last little while and Karl is a man who works in their office.  Karl has always been a bit of an odd duck.  I think he is just awkward, so tends to avoid conversation if he can.  But when I stopped in there today, there was no one else there, and Karl and I ended up in a conversation that lasted about twenty minutes.

I discovered he is a very humble man who fully embodies the ideology of gratitude which forms the core objective of this blog.  He is an older guy with a bit of that “I don’t understand young people today” attitude, but it comes across as an endearing rather than crotchety trait.  One topic led to another and he began talking about his experiences in Germany after the war.  “There was just no money,” he began. “My family shared a room no bigger than this with two other families,” he continued, gesturing the room we were in, which was maybe 20 by 12 ft.  “We had to walk miles and miles for food, and I remember paper stuffed in the toes of my shoes because I was only about 8 years old at the time, and the shoes I had were for a 12-year-old.”  His speech was prosaic and not intended to inspire or solicit sympathy; he simply was pointing out that he has every reason to be thankful for what he has now, because he had so little then.

In response to Karl’s story, I could say that today I am thankful for so many things (shoes without paper stuffed in the toe, for instance!), but I think I will boil it down to being thankful for shelter.  Today, I am thankful for shelter, and something more than a shelter: a home.

safe

Today I am thankful that my family and I are safe. As I sit in my house writing this, it is blissfully easy to forget that I am lucky not to have to worry that militants will burst into my house to abuse us, to rape my wife, to send me and my family to concentration camps. As I drive to work, it is nice that I am not likely to be stopped at a blockade, forcibly removed from my car, and violently executed on the spot because of the colour of my skin, or because I believe something, or because my ancestors lived in one part of the world and not another, or just because my country is consumed by social unrest and I happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. As my son boards his school bus, I am so, so thankful that he is not likely to be hit by shrapnel. It sounds morbid to write, but these things are commonplace in so many parts of the world. I can’t imagine sitting at my kitchen table, listening to gunfire and explosions outside, and going on eating my peas and thinking, “this is all so very normal.” I believe safety is a basic human right, but it is a right denied to so many.

But, despite my gratitude, I am cautious not to work myself into a false sense of security. While I read of school shooting sprees, it is so simple to squelch the rising panic in my throat by telling myself, “these things happen in places far away from where you live,” but there is nothing preventing it from happening where I live.

So, yes, I am thankful today, but let me be continuously thankful for every day, every hour, every second that my children are safe and that I am not robbed of them in one unpredictable moment of gratuitous violence or tragedy.

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