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Sunday, April 27, 2014

A Leaf Legacy

“If you want me again look for me under your boot soles.” ― Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

About two weeks ago, I was walking along my usual route when I spotted an impression of a leaf in a fairly new section of a concrete side walk.  I kept walking and started thinking about that image and how it got there.  Did the leaf just fall onto the side walk at the perfect time and leave its mark? Did someone come along and deliberately press the leaf into the still-wet concrete?  The image here is not that leaf, by the way.

I thought about it and thought about it, and the very next day when I went on that walk again, I decided to take a picture of it.  But I couldn't find it.  I looked and looked in the area where I thought the leaf was, and just couldn't see it.  I wondered if I had imagined it?  But I really didn't think so. Every day I walked in that area, I searched for that leaf impression, but it seemed to have disappeared.

The leaf in the picture above was one I found later on another part of my walk.  I think it's too perfect to have been a natural occurrence, and was probably deliberately pressed into the concrete by somebody.

When I found the first leaf, however, it got me to thinking about the legacies we leave behind in life, intentionally or not.  When famous film stars die, they leave behind all of their work and we can watch them again and again as if they were still here.  The same is true for family members;  we can watch old videos or look at pictures of them, or we can read the words they left behind in the form of memoirs, like the ones my Dad and my Grandfather wrote.

Historical public figures are immortalized by the changes they made in the world or in their countries, the journeys they took, and the way they lived or died.  I'm reminded of one of the stories we heard when we were in Hawaii, about Captain Cook and his impact on the Hawaiian people.  First, they thought he was a god, then...not so much.  But a monument still sits in Kealakekua Bay to remind all of his visit and of his death there.  On the same voyage that he explored Hawaii, Captain Cook also explored the area where I live, Vancouver Island, so you'll find signs of his being here too like the street I used to live on, Cook Street.

The rest of us who are less famous also like to mark the places where significant events happened.  For instance, you often see little memorials on the side of the road if someone was killed there, flowers and teddy bears, maybe a cross, and notes of sorrow.  Sometimes people are immortalized by having their name inscribed on a metal plate on a park bench.  Graffiti has been around since I was a kid and probably before that;  who doesn't remember seeing "Grads of '75", or whatever year you graduated high school, spray painted on a bridge overpass somewhere?  Or maybe you carved your initials along with the initials of someone you had a crush on, inside a heart on a tree trunk to confess your undying love.

On that same trip to the Big Island of Hawaii, I noticed quite a few instances of what I call "White Rock Graffiti", as in this picture:

People use white rocks, some of them coral, to "write" messages on the black lava beds, usually along the highway or other roadways;  a seemingly harmless thing to do.  But at the official parks on the Big Island this type of graffiti is discouraged because it's considered disrespectful, and now there are community efforts to actually clean up these messages little by little.  As far as I can see, they've got a lot of work ahead of them! When I started to think about it more, the messages began to appear more self-serving than cute, and in fact became kind of ugly.

Many people talk about leaving a legacy behind, whether it's their art, their writings or some kind of work they've done.  Sometimes people will imply that their only real legacy is the children they leave behind, or the money those children inherit, which, by the way, is the first definition of "legacy" :-)

The internet brings a whole new dimension to legacies.  When I die, assuming that I continue to write here until that point, how long will this blog remain? What about my Facebook page?  It's kind of eerie to see the Facebook page, still remaining, of someone I knew who passed away;  to see the words he typed and the pictures he posted. Facebook does give family members the option of removing the page, or "memorialising" it, whatever that means.  There is a kind of strangeness to it, but it is another form of a legacy.

Looking at that leaf, the first one I spotted, reminded me again of impermanence.  The only sign that the leaf once existed was the impression it left in the side walk.  And even that will one day disappear, either by wear and tear or when the side walk is removed or damaged in some other way.  The words I write here will become less and less relevant (not that they are that relevant to begin with!) and the only people who will care will be my grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  I will become a face in a picture and a name attached to that face, and the essence of me will slowly disappear just like that concrete leaf impression.

I like to think, though, that rather than physically disappearing, I will simply go back to where I sprouted from, returning to the circle of life that will nurture those who come after me.  There's no greater legacy than that.

“I had an inheritance from my father,
It was the moon and the sun.
And though I roam all over the world,
The spending of it’s never done.” ― Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls

Sunday, April 20, 2014

No Big Deal, Uncle Roy

My Uncle Roy was a gay man in Denmark during a time when being gay was pretty much a death sentence, and not because of AIDS.  I don't know a lot about his story because, sadly, he committed suicide during World War II when the Nazis not only threw Jews into concentration camps, but homosexuals too.  The Jews were made to wear yellow Star of David armbands and the gays wore pink triangles.

I remember in the 80's before I moved to Victoria, I saw a theatre production in Vancouver called "Bent", which was all about a homosexual concentration camp like that.  It was pretty disturbing. Whether my Uncle Roy killed himself to avoid being thrown into a camp, or he was afraid of being found out or simply depressed, I don't know. He must have come to the conclusion that he didn't have any choice but to make his exit.  My Danish cousins loved my Uncle Roy, but they didn't know he was gay until I told them a couple of years back. Their parents had never mentioned it to them, but my mother had revealed Uncle Roy's secret to my father and me many years before.  I know she loved her older brother very much, so his death must have been devastating to her.

When I was in high school, I found out that one of my best friends was gay.  I didn't understand too much about what that meant at the time, so I told her she'd grow out of it.  Stupid, eh?  Well, what did I know?  The fact that she was gay didn't really bother me very much, but it did bother members of my family, who told me they didn't want me to spend any time with her, in case I "caught" something.  It sounds silly now, but at the time I think that sentiment ran high with a lot of people.  You certainly didn't talk about that kind of thing in high school, so she didn't come out to anyone other than her closest friends, as I'm sure was the case with other gay high schoolers at the time.  My friend attempted suicide too, a couple of times, although she didn't succeed.  She did end up with an addiction to alcohol, however, and her life spiralled downward after that.

I told a story in this blog once about a security guard that I had a mad crush on, who turned out to be gay and eventually died of AIDS.  They used to say that one day everyone would know someone who died of AIDS, which turned out to be true for me.  These days, however, AIDS is no longer an absolute death sentence, thank goodness.  There are fewer and fewer names being etched on to that memorial in Stanley Park that I was describing in the post linked above.  It's almost like nearing the end of a battle. But there still exist a war.

A part of me would like to think that things have improved and attitudes have changed since my Uncle Roy died, but of course societal change happens excruciatingly slow, especially with my generation and older.  So maybe it shouldn't surprise me to hear that same-sex marriages finally became legal in the UK a couple of weeks ago. I didn't realize it WASN'T legal there! It horrified me to hear the stories about the anti-gay bill in Uganda which not only makes it illegal to be gay, but they can actually impose the death penalty.  And who can forget just before the Winter Olympics earlier this year when the Russian anti-gay bill was announced;  another sign that ignorance rules. Honest to pete, can we get over it now?


I suppose I should give credit where it is due;  at least the UK DID change their laws, as some states are doing in the U.S.  And the Pope SEEMS to be less worried about homosexuality than his predecessors.  Not that I'm Catholic and have much to do with the Pope, but it's something.  But I believe that it's my kids' generation and younger who are the ones who are really going to change attitudes.  The local high school that my daughters attended had, according to them, lots of openly gay couples and no obvious problems because of it.  I'm sure there were those who didn't like it, but that seemed to be the exception rather than the rule.  It just wasn't a big deal.  And that's what needs to happen.

It has to stop being such a big deal.

As frustrated as I am with how slow progress is, I do wish my Uncle Roy could have experienced the changes that have taken place so far.  And I especially would have loved to have met him.

IJ

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Hummingbird Don't Fly Away

The five of us were standing around the kitchen counter in our condo last Friday night, the first evening of our annual spa weekend, examining the bottles of wine we had brought for the occasion. The sun was pouring through the window and through the open door of the patio on that beautiful late afternoon, and we were in great spirits anticipating our weekend together, when I noticed something out of the corner of my eye, flying right past us and circling back towards the window.  I immediately knew what it was, and turned towards it as it flew up to the ceiling and towards a very high skylight in the condo.  A beautiful little hummingbird.

Right away I began to worry, knowing that the little bird was going to have a heck of a time figuring out how to get back outdoors.  The door to the patio was still wide open, but the bird was determined to find its way out through that darn skylight instead.  It tried and tried, occasionally resting by clinging to a very tiny ledge at the side of the skylight.  And then it tried and tried again.

We didn't know what to do, but someone had the idea of making some sugar water in the hopes that she (I've decided it was a 'she' by the pictures I have researched since), would get hungry enough to come down and drink it.  But all she could do was to flap at that skylight again and again.

We had reservations for dinner at the restaurant in the complex at 7pm, and by 6:45pm, she was still trying.  All we could hope for was that she would eventually get tired and come down.  I couldn't get her off my mind as we walked to the restaurant and got seated inside.

After we'd been sitting and chatting for awhile, we realized that we had forgotten something back at the condo so I volunteered to take the walk back and get it, still worried about the little bird and thinking maybe I would find her somewhere where I could catch her and help her get outside.  I didn't really believe that it was possible to catch something so small and so fast, but I was still hopeful.  When I got back to the condo, however, I still found her batting away at the skylight, so I retrieved what I was looking for and reluctantly locked up and made my return to the restaurant.

It was getting dark by the time dinner was over and we headed back to the condo.  As we entered I listened for the sound of her fluttering wings, but it was very quiet.  Someone turned a light on and I walked quietly over to the skylight and looked up.  She wasn't there.  I knew she was in the room somewhere, so I gingerly tiptoed around looking on the floor behind the chairs and along the windowsill.  Then I heard a rustling sound.

She had hidden herself in some fake leaves that were lying in a pot containing a fake tree.  Her head popped up just as I got there, and I guess she was a little startled so she flew up to one of the branches in the tree.  She was within my reach so I knew I had to catch her now before she flew off somewhere higher.  One of my friends took a book and held it above her, and then gently, very gently, I cupped my hands above and below her and caught her just before she managed to fly off again.

Her wing stuck out of my fingers at first, but she pulled it back in, and I held her delicately as I walked towards the patio door that one of my friends had hurried to open.  I walked outside and decided that I'd try and carefully place her on the patio table.  But instead of letting me put her down, she found her way to my forefinger, and there she was, perched quietly and looking at me. I was in awe.

I whispered to her, "So you don't want to go just yet, you want to stay with me?" She seemed quite calm and content, either that or she was still very tired from her earlier attempts at escaping.  But there she sat.  I've never had a hummingbird on my finger before.  She was so tiny and so beautiful and I didn't want her to go.  Have you ever had one of those moments so beautiful you find yourself holding your breath and wishing you could hold onto it for just a little longer?

From behind me, someone suggested I take her over to one of the bushes near the patio, so I began to walk towards it.  And that's when she finally fluttered off, disappearing into the night.  Wow.

Hummingbird don't fly away, fly away 
Hummingbird don't fly away, fly away 
Haven't you noticed the days 
Somehow keep getting longer? 
And the spirit voices whisper in us all
(from Hummingbird - Seals & Crofts)

IJ