Tag Archive: tragedy


remember

remembrance march

Photo Credit: big-tom-84; Licence: Public Domain

We visited a cemetery today to pay respects.  Although we had no family members buried there, we located a soldier’s grave and placed on it poppy wreaths the boys had made.  The man buried beneath the headstone had been 20 when he died.  In a quiet moment with my eldest, I recited In Flanders Fields… and explained what it meant.  He’s 9 and I suppose he understands it all about as well as I did at that age, when the overwhelming beauty of a person sacrificing their lives for the values we as a country hold sacred is still a pretty abstruse concept.  But this is why we remember on Remembrance Day.  It’s not that we shouldn’t remember every single day we draw breath, but having one day devoted to remembrance helps instill our children — and re-instill us — with an understanding and appreciation.  Maybe they don’t “get it” at first, but eventually they will.  This is how we pass “the torch” and “hold it high.”

Every day, thousands of men and women risk their lives to protect us, keep us safe, and guard our freedom, and there are hundreds of thousands before them who have risked — and, far too often, lost — their lives in service of our country with the same noble objectives.  Some of those who have died have been almost children, the incandescent glow of youth still visible on their skin.  Those who have fought have been separated from their families, subjected to grueling conditions.  They have witnessed horrors most of us could never imagine.

Today, I am thankful for them.  Today, I remember.

ordinary heroes

building collapse

Photo Credit: Tannoy; Licence: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Many months ago, I stumbled upon the Carnegie Hero Fund, a fund started by wealthy industrialist Andrew Carnegie, who wanted to honour civilian heroes.

The fund was founded in 1904, and the stories of the numerous awardees of the Carnegie Medal are truly inspirational.  Spend a day reading or listening to them and your heart will be full.  Don’t forget to stock up on tissues.  They are the stories of people who have risked their own lives to save others, many times people they did not even know.

Out of all the selfishness in the world, it’s moving to see so many people who become heroes when their circumstances call them to action.

I can’t share all the stories, so I will share two:

On 17 August 1953, Theodore Henderson (aged 39) was fixing a flat at the side of a highway in Florida, when a 19-year-old woman drove by, lost control of her vehicle, slid off the road, and landed upside-down in a 12 ft. deep murky canal.  Henderson arrived to see the tires of the vehicle slip below the surface of the water. Avoiding an 8 ft. long alligator near by, he swam into the canal and managed to open a door, but the car shifted and the door closed on two of his fingers. He yanked free, tearing a tip off one and breaking the other.  He swam back to the bank, grabbed a tire iron, then swam back down to the vehicle and smashed the rear window.  After swimming to the top to take a breath, he swam back down, dragged her out, and swam to the bank, where she recovered.

On 17 November 1960, Joseph Granahan was relaxing in a bar when he saw clouds of dust.  A building had been recently demolished, but the foundation of the adjacent tenement building had not been adequately protected and the building was collapsing.  When Granahan arrived, all the tenants had managed to escape, except one elderly woman named Helen Giles, who was screaming for help from the fourth floor.  Granahan did not know the woman, but he kicked out the glass panel of the front door and climbed the stairs.  When he reached the fourth floor, the power went out and the building shook.  He managed to find his way to the apartment and carried Giles down the four flights of stairs, with the staircase pulling away from the wall as he descended the last flight.  Moments after he had exited the building with Giles, the entire building collapsed into rubble.

Today, I am thankful for heroes.  We live in a world of survival.  Everyone is committed to his or her own interests.  And yet, when circumstances call for it, sometimes ordinary people become heroes. It’s the type of thing that restores my faith in humanity.

freedom extended

Mid-June, I put away Hugo’s Les Miserables in favour of Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  Hugo was too heavy for the sultry summer weather, and I desired literature that had been aired out a little.

Both of the two Twain novels are light-hearted, enjoyable reads, but Huck Finn’s saga has an underbelly of racial commentary.  There are a few points in the novel which stand out in this manner, but there is a short section in Chapter 16 which I feel is almost the crux of the story.  In it, Huck Finn and his runaway slave companion, Jim, are travelling down the Mississippi, looking for Cairo.  Cairo is positioned at a crossroads between freedom and enslavement: continue further down the Mississippi and travel deeper into the south, or travel up the Ohio river and reach the northern states where slavery is abolished.

Huck begins to have a crisis of conscience (please excuse the use of derogatory language below, but I am quoting and, really, considering the point I am making, it would be idiotic to censor):

Jim talked out loud all the time while I was talking to myself. He was saying the first thing he would do when he got to a free State he would go to saving up money and never spend a single cent, and when he got enough he would buy his wife, which was owned on a farm close to where Miss Watson lived; and then they would both work to buy the two children, and if their master wouldn’t cell them, they’d get an Ab’litionist to go and steal them.

It most froze me to hear such talk. He wouldn’t ever dared to talk such talk in his life before. Just see what a difference it made in him the minute he judged he was about free. It was according to the old saying, “Give a nigger an inch and he’ll take an ell.”  Thinks I, this is what comes of my not thinking. Here was this nigger, which I had as good as helped to run away, coming right out flat-footed and saying he would steal his children — children that belonged to a man I didn’t even know; a man that hadn’t ever done me no harm.

Reading it, I couldn’t help but shake my head.  Of course, I have a decent grasp of history and the treatment of slaves. I understood, too, that slaves were truly objectified, and stealing a person’s slave or helping that slave escape was perceived as no different than stealing their farm animals or their jewels.  It still astounded me, though, to hear stated in such bald terms that a greater crisis of conscience might arise from the idea of a man taking back his children and wife from the person who “owns” them, than does arise from the idea of the person “owning” them in the first place.

Later in the book, Jim talks about how he misses his family, and Huck simply cannot understand it, even though he would think nothing of a White person missing his or her family.  To Huck, it must seem as crazy as a table getting emotional about the absence of other tables: he simply cannot see Jim as a human being with feelings and yearnings.

Twain, of course, lived and wrote in the time when all of this was a reality so, even though it is fiction, he is a satisfactory and reliable commentator: this is what people believed.

Huckleberry Finn: Jim on the Raft

Illustration Credit: E. W. Kemble (original book illustration); Licence: Public Domain

The idea of having no free will and no personal choice; of being owned, and having my destiny determined, by another; of knowing that fulfilling a natural desire for companionship and offspring would simply enslave another person at the profit of another; of being separated from the people I love and not being able to bridge that gap; to say nothing of the abuse suffered by slaves…. the idea of it all is simply too disturbing to consider.

Slavery is truly one of the most disgusting blights on the history of humanity.

A few days ago, I spoke about my gratitude for freedom, but I felt that this example of freedom deserved special attention.  Today, I am thankful not only for my freedom, but for the heroes of history who went against the grain and fought against slavery, and fought for civil rights.

an ubiquitous liar

It used to be that, whenever I felt sad, I would watch Schindler’s List (1993) or some equally horrific film about the atrocities committed by people against their fellow men and women.  Telling people this always led to quizzical expressions in response.

“Why on earth would you do that?” they would ask.  “Doesn’t that make you more sad?”

Oddly, it didn’t, and not because I’m secretly a sociopath.  I found that, most of the time when I felt sad, it was really me just feeling sorry for myself.  Watching a film about people who suffer considerably more than me helped me appreciate what I had going for me.

As time progressed, I discovered that there were occasions when I would spiral into a very dark pit of despair, with feelings of worthlessness, sadness, and hopelessness swirling around me, mocking me with sharp tongues.  I learned that no amount of exposure to the plights of others could lift me from those depths, no effort at counting my blessings could cheer me.  I came to call those occasions “depression.”

man looking out the window at rain

Photo Credit: Jiri Hodan; Licence: Public Domain

I started this blog a few months ago because  I wanted to stop feeling angry and cheated at the misfortunes in my life.  I’ve had my share of life disasters, but I also have a supportive family, a job, my wife, my children, my health, etc.  Stopping each day to acknowledge something beautiful and wonderful in my life is a way of realizing that my blessings far outweigh the little crosses I have to bear from time to time.  Starting this blog was my own personal brand of cognitive-behavioural therapy, and a heck of a lot cheaper than a shrink.

And it worked!  On the whole, I have been much happier.  Those moments of sadness were more easily chased away.  But depression has still lingered at the sidelines, waiting for me to trip over my self-esteem so that it can fly in and attack me when I’m down.

Some of you might have noticed a period of absence this past weekend where I wrote no posts of gratitude.  Depression had been haunting me all week and finally got the better of me.  It was saying a lot of horrible things about me, and I didn’t feel grateful for much.

Jenny Lawson (The Bloggess) often says that depression is a liar.  I agree with her.  The challenge is getting yourself to acknowledge that when depression is sitting on your chest and you’re gasping for air.

Today, I am thankful that my periods of light far exceed my times of darkness, both in length and in frequency.  Others aren’t so lucky.

newshound

Journalists are a nasty bunch of wraiths who will bully, deceive, cheat, and sell their souls to get a scoop on a good story.  And if they can’t get a good story, they’ll manipulate the truth until it’s something that will sell.

Leastways, that’s what popular media has always led me to believe.

I am perhaps a lonely one among the masses in that I have a great deal of respect for the noble industry of journalism. If you ever read, watch, or listen to the news, you should too.  Let me tell you why.

Continue reading

goodness

Many of you are by now aware of a mass shooting that occurred in Aurora, Colorado earlier this week.  If you’re not, I apologize for making you aware, but I won’t offer any more publicity for the person believed to have committed this heinous crime by reiterating details here. It is sufficient to say that many happy and hopeful lives were cut short in a moment of terror.

Our newspapers have seen no shortage of mass or public shootings in the past year, or stories of filmed dismemberment, with body parts being mailed to government offices and schools.  I think I am bothered not so much by the idea that crime continues but that crime is becoming more and more disturbing.

Soldiers Hugging

Photo Credit: D. Myles Culle, Licence: Public Domain (Editorial)

I’ve started trying something new when reading accounts of tragedy. I’ve found that, often, in response to tragedy, humanity’s brightest colours shine. Foes put away enmity; people become more charitable and generous of spirit; those around us hold their loved ones a little closer.  After the shooting in Colorado, as police worked to remove a hoard of explosives from the suspect’s apartment, neighbours cooked the officers food and brought them water.  It was a small act, but an example of the way that a community comes together in response to tragedy.

Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion… love actually is all around.   — Hugh Grant in Love Actually (2003)

Despite all the horrors people might perpetrate against others, I do believe that there is considerably more good in the world than evil.  Today, I am thankful for the goodness that exists.

%d bloggers like this: