I love your shoes

I was having a business dinner with a new associate at a popular restaurant in Ottawa. As we got up to leave I excused myself to go to the washroom. When I came out of the cubicle I joined two extremely beautiful young women who were chatting as they washed their hands. One of them said, “I love your shoes.” I told them they were handmade Jesus sandals. That I had gotten them years ago from a shoemaker in Victoria. I said he used to be an old hippy with blond hair down to his waist and that I had bought a leather purse from him when I was a teenager.

The three of us got talking. They said they loved the pendant I was wearing. I said it was made from trade beads a west coast friend had given me. They loved my earrings. I told them about Stevie Kittleson a jewellery artist from Hornby Island. After about 15 minutes of me telling stories about the things I was wearing and a lot more they said they loved my life. They wanted to be like me when they got old; I was much younger than I am now but much older than them.

When we emerged from the washroom one of them asked, “Can I hug you?” This was before COVID so we had a wonderful hug session. My businessman-date watched in awe as I kissed the women goodbye. “What did you three do in there?” he asked. Of course. What was a man to think?

I apologized for keeping him waiting and then told him about our short washroom love fest of appreciation. I explained to him just a little about the richness of being a woman. The connections we make that are often demeaned and belittled. How we can be immediately intimate with each other without the sexual overlay men attach to intimacy. We talked about the richness of getting older and the freedom it brings to women, if only they could embrace it.

He listened but he got stuck on “Wow, if only I could have that effect on women.” I was pretty sure he didn’t understand when he said, “Wow, just 15 minutes in a public bathroom and they were asking for your number.” “Wow, and there were two of them.”

That tiny 15-minute interlude was one of my life’s priceless lessons. Those two giggling, partying young women were my teachers.

I don’t hesitate to tell someone I love their earrings. I don’t feel frivolous when I acknowledge something that catches my eye. I am not embarrassed to share my feelings of enjoyment when I see something that pleases me. Current social etiquette would have it that we need to “be careful” when we talk to people. Society wants us constrained by the significant, god forbid that we should appear trivial.

But we need each other and I’m not going to stop valuing the incidental. I am going to connect with whoever and on whatever level life provides. “I like your shoes,” means I see you. “I like your earrings,” means I have picked you out of my crowded, busy, important day and I acknowledge you and the beauty you bring to my world.

Sure, you might say, that’s all there is on social media. Narcissism gone wild. Everyone loving every insignificant thing about each other from what they ate for breakfast to their glorified face, airbrushed to perfection…their very own personalized Barbie.

But you are talking about a sad and very different thing. The bonus lesson the young women taught is that I am not going to give it all away to social media. We don’t need to diminish the importance of reaching out, in real life, person-to-person because something much less is happening on another level. I would say that the “likes” and “loves” on social media make encounters like the one I had in the Ottawa restaurant bathroom even more important.

Donna Ashworth, in her book of poetry, I wish I knew says it all and says it better.


I said your hair looked amazing but what I really wanted to say was…

“Your energy sparks a little bit of something in mine, your smile warms my heart, and when you laugh, I just have to laugh too, it’s like a bubbling stream of fresh water running through my soul.

I feel like the sun is shining on me when you’re near

and when I leave you, sad as it is, I feel like I’ve been charged, plugged into the mains for an infusion of fizz and life.”

But I said, “I love your shoes”, instead.

I hope you heard, what I really meant.


And then there’s Piper

Before I start I confess I don’t know what I’m talking about. But I need to talk about it. But I don’t want to talk about it because my brain hurts and my stomach turns when I hear it being discussed.

As I listened to Geoffrey Hinton, the distinguished AI pioneer, talk about the dangers of AI and about how it’s gone past the point of no return and about how even the rich and famous and powerful will have no real control over the mechanisms of power I had the same blood trembling feeling I had when I watched Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth. The film introduced some new information but, in general, Gore was not saying anything I didn’t already know. Human behaviour is not going to improve significantly and the climate is changing. It’s a freight train situation.

Same with AI. It is already everywhere. We love it. We aren’t going to stop asking Siri how old Willie Nelson is. We aren’t going to stop “researching” the Internet for answers to our everyday dilemmas. “How widespread are peanut allergies? Should we continue to ban peanut butter from school classrooms?” AI has already seeped into our brains. Another freight train.

While the big boys fight over who controls AI, AI is controlling them. Here’s where my brain starts to heat up.

And the gods forbid regulating AI. That was never going to happen. As Elon Musk says, “It’s not fun to get regulated.”

I’ve never liked science fiction. I’m always unsettled by the non fiction sub text. But here we are. Living in one of the greatest science fiction stories of all time with our very own Frankenstein.

I relate better to the Biblical metaphor. No sooner had the great designer of the universe put his final and human touches on creation and set them in the garden did Adam and Eve, in Musk-like fashion, ignore the regulations. From that moment on the creator was in constant battle with his creation. And here we are. Climate change. AI.

“Siri, what’s next?”

I have a thought that I want to share because I’m unsure how long human thoughts will be useful. I’ve been thinking about how society, at least in the west, has been in a teeth bared, fists up, muscles pumped scramble about everything—left/right, male/female, white/brown, old/young, vax/antivax, rich/poor, open carry/ban guns, red/blue, sane/insane. We really do believe that our enemy is whoever is on the other side of the forward / slash.

I heard one of the screen-writer protesters say that on her work she is now required to identify herself as Susie Smith, human. That’s when I had what is probably an extremely naïve thought. I think I’m close to being right when I say we usually rally together when there is a common enemy.

Could it be that once we all are required to put “human” behind our names that we might realize that we are in this together? That we need to stick together? All of us. Could it be that all the other divisive arguments and identifiers will pale compared to the common challenge coming from what will be outside of ourselves? Oh we will still be able to blame THEM but THEY won’t be able to control the monster of their own creation, the monster they and all of us have come to adore and rely on.

I am not being facetious and I am especially not being disrespectful to people who have very real struggles to identify themselves but there is something I like about signing off as Sylvia Olsen, human. And as I willingly identify as human I do so acknowledging and embracing both the extremely nasty and the wonderful aspects of my species.

Hat off to Tex

Tex thinks he needs a haircut

Three sleeps. But who’s counting? Joac, my son, gives us a daily phone call to remind us. As if we can forget. It’s now three sleeps until Tex gets his second new hip. It’s been three years since he has been able to walk without crutches other than a brief interlude after his first hip replacement and before his muscles and second hip wreaked such havoc.

It’s been a long time since I’ve anticipated something with such enthusiasm. I remember when I was a child and beginning to pack for camp a week in advance. I portioned out my excitement—I’ll get my suitcase out seven days before. I’ll make a list of what to pack six days before. I’ll make sure everything is washed four or five days before. And then there was the paper and pencils for doodling while travelling. And then there was a trip to the drug store to buy tiny packets of soap and shampoo and toothpaste.

The preparation week came after months of eagerness waiting for one week at camp. Camp was never a disappointment. It didn’t matter what happened. It was a thing. It interrupted the everyday. So whatever happened was exciting. I also think I was an easy kid to please. I made my own enjoyment and then revelled in it.

There have been life events that I’ve looked forward to with almost as much enthusiasm as camp. The birth of my kids comes to mind. Pregnancy is one of the ultimate count downs starting at about eight months or whenever you first confirm that you are going to have a baby. The countdown gets more urgent as you balloon to the point of not being able to walk, or sit, or stand, or lie down without discomfort. At least that’s how it was for me. My body seemed to think it needed 50 or so pounds to make a baby.

The older I get the less anticipation I feel. And it’s not because there have not been remarkable days in my life. Book launches, dissertation defences, graduations, purchasing a Lodge as well as all the events brought on by my children’s lives.

I don’t do countdowns anymore. Not really. Only when I have a project that’s due or a book deadline and that’s not excitement that’s drudgery.

This time, with Tex’s hip and Joac’s phone calls, it’s a real countdown. I don’t know what excites me the most. That Tex will finally be out of pain? That he will be able to walk again? That his hands won’t ache from bearing all his weight on the crutches? That he will be able to get in and out of the van with ease? That he will be able to stop taking so many painkillers? That he will be able to get back on his bike? That he won’t have to depend on his damn wife for every little thing his body won’t let him do?

And I won’t lie. I’m excited that if it all goes well I won’t have to carry all the groceries, put on and off his compression socks, run up and down the stairs a million times, do all the errands and chores…there’s all that as well.

My hat goes off to caregivers. It’s not easy. It can make you grumpy. If you are like me sometimes you want to throw things instead of picking them up.

But mostly my hat is off to Tex. He has born chronic pain and immobility with grace and dignity. He has not lost his humour or his respect. I take back anything I might have ever said about how men don’t bear up to illness and discomfort as well as women. I used to actually believe that until I met Tex and lived with him especially over the past three years. Good job, my man. Three more sleeps and then if it all goes as planned you will be in recovery…getting better everyday rather than the other way around.

Become inspired: a Ferron workshop

Ani Di Franco and the Indigo Girls call her their inspiration. The Rolling Stone likens her songwriting to Leonard Cohen. The New York Times calls her “one of the most powerful lyric voices to emerge out of the genre known as ‘women’s music’. 

Ferron has released 15 albums and published four books of poetry. She has a Juno nomination. She has performed for decades throughout Canada and the United States.  Ferron was a beloved leader of the lesbian music movement before k.d. lang or Tracy Chapman.

Ferron is a trailblazer. She did that thing many of us want to do. She changed the world. She made a space for women who had no voice. She shared a message many people didn’t want to hear. But we had too. Because her voice was powerful, it was beautiful, it was real.

She made us listen. It turns out it’s not just the lesbian movement that heard Ferron. We all did. 

Ferron is a Canadian treasure and she is here on Saturna Island and ready to share her brilliance with a small group in a writing workshop at the Lodge. The perfect place to become inspired.

A kid on a bike

Startled by the sharp bbbrrring of a bicycle bell I stop and turn around to see who is coming up behind. It’s a steamy Okanagan afternoon and I’m happy enough to interrupt my jog.

Ice cream. Do you want ice cream? A small brown, very brown boy skids his foot on the loose gravel and brings his bike to a bumpy halt. The wheels on a white plywood box tethered behind bounce sideways and then rest. The lid, decorated with the peeled painted words Ice Cream, settles. The boy, catching his breath, looks relieved that his caravan hasn’t run him over and at the same time looks hopeful that he’s about to make a sale.

What do you have? I ask. Fudgicles, Revellos, Creamsicles, he says.

A Creamsicle, I say. Orange I hope.

Orange it is, he says. That’s 50 cents.

He closes one hand around my two quarters and pulls a brown paper bag out of his pocket with the other. He steadies his rig with his knee until the bag and the coins are stuffed safely back in his shorts. He smiles and pulls out a Creamsicle. He smiles again.

He says, thank you.

As the heat begins its assault on the ice cream I say, thanks and pull off the wrapper. I lap the drips with my tongue.

Where did you come from? I say. I’m not sure if I mean how did you just appear out of nowhere or what brings a young brown boy to this very white interior town? He doesn’t get my question either. He dips his head as if to listen harder. He squints his eyes as if that will help him understand. Then he fans his hand on his chest and says, I’m Portuguese. I’m from Brazil.

He hops up on his bike seat and pushes hard on the pedals. Slowly the rig edges ahead.

As he rolls away I call out, Thanks a lot for the ice cream

Without turning around he calls back, You’re welcome

I watch the boy and the bike and the white plywood box wobble up the road. Little did I know a few months later he’d be sitting at our dinner table eating chicken pasta casserole.

I say, He’s come to stay. He’s now part of our family.

Our kids look at him eagerly, hesitantly, curiously.

I say, You have another brother. He’s our family. Now there are six of us.

He smiles and scoops more casserole. Before I can explain that his foster family can no longer take care of him, that their dad and I agreed to take him in, that everyone will get their say later but he needs a home now…

He says, I picked this family. His English is better now. He says, I looked around this place and knew this is where I want to live. He fans his hand around the table. With you people. In this home.

I’m thinking, wait a minute. You picked? You’re the kid on the bike with the ice cream and the paper bag full of coins.

We hang a flag of Brazil in the room he will share with his new brother. We find a mason jar for all his 50 cents. This will be his permanent stop. He is home.

It’s been almost 35 years and I still wonder who chose whom and in the end, of course, it doesn’t matter. He’s a son, he’s a brother, he’s an uncle, he’s family. It was magic that brought us together.

Feeling the happy in the birthday

I had a wonderful feeling of deep appreciation on the 13th when I was inundated with birthday wishes. I received Happy Birthday from old friends and acquaintances, friends of my children, nieces and nephews and Facebook friends I have never met from places I have never been.

Happy Birthday has always felt a bit Hallmark to me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always loved a good meal and gifts but it was easy to pass it off as a trivial celebration. Not yesterday. I truly felt remembered. For a few seconds people thought about me and wanted me to have a good day. A special day. “I hope you have cake.” “I love your blog.” “I haven’t seen you for awhile, let’s get together.” “You are celebrating your birthday but the rest of us are celebrating the anniversary of you arriving in the world and making it a better, happier place for us.” (Thanks Chris.)

Perhaps the difference this birthday is that I let myself feel appreciated. My old self is loosening up on the weighty, the important, the significant… I am beginning to experience the simple, the immediate, the gentle, the human, the sweet, the pleasant, the lovable as being the truly exceptional. It’s a wonderful transition.

I never imagined I would have sixty-eight birthdays. Like most people, old was not something I wanted to imagine. But more specifically in my case I was raised to believe that I would never reach old age. I never thought I would reach an age to marry and have children let alone grandchildren.

My family’s religion taught that Jesus was coming back and he would put an end to this world. By 1980. By 2000. There was no way we’d reach 2025. Bible prophecies assured us that we were living in the time of the end. Most importantly the Jews were back in the land of Israel and we were to keep our eyes out for the time that “Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven…Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.”

I remember when I was 11 or 12 years old and those verses from the Gospel of Luke were my memory verses. My Sunday School teacher passed them out in the form of a little sticker. I put it in my “proof book”. We were given one sticker each Sunday. The verses were “proof” that we knew the Bible, that the Bible was God’s word, that we understood what it meant and that everyone else had it wrong. That particular proof was long and the other kids groaned. But I was good at remembering. I took the long proofs as a challenge. I have never forgotten that one.

Those verses described the state of the world for my entire life. They kept me on edge. But there was more. There were the prophecies about the six days, the one thousand years per day, the end of the six thousandth year was 2000 and after that it was the millennium. I don’t expect most of you will understand that one. It seemed pretty straight-forward at the time but it’s not one that stuck with me. I couldn’t believe that the world was only 6000 years old. There wasn’t a “proof”. But it didn’t matter. We were waiting nevertheless (I always loved the way that word flowed with three together).

And yet here I am. Sixty-eight years old. I left the religion thirty years ago. Beliefs about the Bible and the god of my family’s religion have long since dissolved. I am no longer right and everyone else is no longer wrong. Thankfully I no longer believe that I am exceptional, God’s chosen. I no longer believe that I will be saved along with a handful of others like in the story of Noah’s ark while the tiny group of us watch the rest of the world and humankind be destroyed. But the sense that this world is temporary has never left me.

These days there has been a very strange turn of events. I used to be the only “end of the worlder” that I knew (other than the “insiders” in our tiny wee church). I used to look out at “outsiders” in awe and be somewhat jealous at the way they had such confidence in the world. It was as if they believed it would go on forever. They made plans for their lives, their careers, their retirement. They had investments and dreams and ambitions.

But these days everyone has become an “end of the worlder”. Most people have finally realized that the world cannot indefinitely provide for humans’ endless capacity to consume. It will not go on forever. Not as we know it. Something very, very different is in our future.

This doesn’t seem to be a good place to end a blog. I don’t have a tidy wrap up for this. I need to write another blog to take up where this one signs off.

For now it is enough for me to say that the idea that the world as it has been would go on forever is where the problem really lies. It is a world-view problem and it was a delusion from the start. A delusion humans love but a delusion nevertheless. Giving up on a delusion hurts. I know because leaving the fantasies of the church of my early life was excruciating.

But once we come to terms with the fact that our existence as it is could never have been sustainable, once we realize that we were just plain wrong about life then we can begin to figure out how to live with a more temporary sense of being human. Then we can figure out how to treat the earth, its beings and other humans as the gifts they are rather than ours for the taking and the using.

Perhaps it’s this transition that allows me to truly feel the happy in the birthday. Letting go of my own importance and incorporating the good will and generosity of others for one moment, for one day is truly a wonderful thing.

Thank you thank you thank you all.


Ferron. She has us.


In one word. A review of the Ferron concert from a guest. Ferron’s gritty, husky, throaty whispers, her timing, exquisite stories and humour led us on an emotional tour. We laughed, we cried, we cheered and we sang the night away. “Harmless love, what’s the matter with harmless love”. We had that sort of love on Wednesday night at the Saturna Lodge. Like Ferron said “There are no predatory animals on Saturna.” 

“It was best concert I have ever attended. I mean that. And I’ve been to a lot of concerts.”

From an experienced music-ie. He’s been around. He knows exceptional. He knew he had just felt it.

There are too many lyrics to remember. I can’t pull one up and do it justice. You need to hear them yourself. Scrumptious notions, glimpses, moments. Sometimes like the gentle clicking of knitting needles. Sometimes like fireworks.

“Aaahhh, aaahhhaaa, aaahhh.”

Not said like a word. Not an analysis or a review. After each song a woman sitting in front of me shook her head and voiced the movement she felt with simply “Aaahhh.”


The word kept coming to my mind. Ferron’s generosity filled the room. She’s not young anymore. We found Advil and got it to her in the morning. Her puffy, arthritic fingers still ached when she arrived for sound check. She doesn’t sleep much. She has printed her lyrics but with the dim light they are hard to read. But there she was in a fullness that only comes with being fully real…with it all. It was the first Ferron concert for me but I am certain she was as good as she’s ever been…perhaps better.

Then there was Norm MacPherson. Her virtuoso guitar accompaniment who has played for decades and with stars such as Burton Cummings and the Poppy Family. His brilliance makes it look and sound as if he has performed with Ferron for years.

And Robert Montgomery. He’s been a sound and light guy for the likes of David Bowie, Rush and Reba McIntyre and there he was at Saturna Lodge setting the stage and turning two musicians into a delightful, quality production.

But it wasn’t just Ferron and the others. It was the Lodge. Tex and I learned quickly when we bought it that it didn’t belong to us. Not in the usual sense of the word. We sort of belonged to it. And it sort of belonged to the island. I have long had that sense of ownership when it comes to land, place, space. It’s bigger than me. I am simply the current caretaker. The most recent custodian. The one who is responsible for it for a tiny slice of time until I pass it on to the next and the next and so on.

Ferron knocked on the door only weeks after we had first wondered what we could bring to the Lodge and what it would bring to us. She came bearing stories of previous owners. Previous efforts. Previous dreams. She came bearing ideas of what could be. She was in love with the Lodge. She has been side by side with us bringing a new contribution to this magical place.

So there we were. Wednesday night. A full house. Sharing love.

Okay. I just remembered the lyrics that have been bouncing around in my head. The ones I’ve been trying to pull up as I write this blog. I’ve got them. I have to share them with you. Not to get preachy or teachy but we all need these words these days as we struggle to wonder what to do with our crazy world. Not that we need complacency but we all need to chill out like we used to say.

Ferron’s concert gave us a moment to relax and just be with what we’ve got.

“It’s old human nature, It’s cold or it’s hot

But if it’s snowin’ in Brooklyn

You say it’s snowin’ in Brooklyn

Well if it’s snowin’ in Brooklyn

I’d say snow’s what we got.”

Getting ready to host. Sunflowers by Kevin Stewart (Vancouver)

Ella’s hat

It’s all about the hat

“I’m just going to stay here and knit with Grandma.” That’s Ella’s response to suggestions to do almost anything. 

So here we sit. Across from each other. Talking about how much she loves Saturna Island, the Lodge, her brother Silas, her school, learning to speak SENCOTEN, playing soccer and most of all knitting. 

“I’m your knitting partner,” she says. And she is. 

Ella was born with the knitting gene.

At 10 years old her needles click in her hands while she looks around, giggles and talks. Like her great grandma, Laura Olsen, I’m sure she could knit with her eyes closed. 

Ella doesn’t knit what she’s told or knit from a pattern. She designs what she knits. She amends it as she goes. She adds colours and stitches depending on what she sees emerging. She designed and knit the skirt she wore on her first day of school in grade one.

This weekend it was all about the hat. She had to have a hat.

“I’ll knit one for myself if you tell me how,” she said. 

She tried on all the hats on the table and knew exactly which one was perfect for her.

“It’s yours,” I said. “A gift from me.”

But Ella is really the gift. To me. To the world.

Going small

Knitted hats on the table

I’m reading Michelle Obama’s book The Light We Carry and was interested to see the lead photo was of her sitting on her foot on a wing back chair…knitting. She bought needles and wool and learned to knit as a way to get through isolation during the pandemic. She soon found out that knitting is more than one stitch after the other. It is a gentle, quiet, therapeutic practice that helped her manage her pandemic anxiety. But she found out that it’s also not more than one stitch after the other. It is a simple motion, a beautiful rhythm—yarn around, pull through, push off, repeat, repeat, repeat. Simply motion.

“Everything was big. Everything was consequential. It was hard not to feel overwhelmed.” Michelle was talking about how she felt during the pandemic. “Nothing felt even remotely like enough. There were just too many gaps to fill.”

Now that stage of the pandemic is over many of us are left with the “nothing is enough” feeling about everything.

The rise of fanaticism and narcissism (perhaps two expressions of the same condition) leave us bewildered and beleaguered. The right to maintain the personal freedom to travel, to express oneself in any way we choose, to make up our own facts, to purchase at will and to preserve our western privilege have become our causes while the voices of the historically oppressed, the people who for generations/centuries have had their rights trampled, have been sidelined. At the same time the real threat to all of us bickering humans—climate change—marches along. 

Insanity rules at the highest level of our society. The U.S. nomination of the speaker of house is a case in point. The recent sideshow was a disturbing display of dysfunction. Each player, clearly a bundle of anxiety, driven by their own priorities and imperatives looked more like circus performers than elected leaders. There was just too much wrong with the situation to get it right.

Watching the Canadian parliament or BC legislature isn’t much better. We all know there’s a systemic problem. The structure of our democracies needs to be rethought, rejigged, refreshed…those are thoughts for another day. But for now, for me, that project is too big, too consequential, too overwhelming because I don’t think we can get there. As long as we continue on the path we are taking madly chasing big ideas while our inner selves are in chaos we won’t get it right.

Being someone who is convinced that our real challenge is climate not personal freedom I am thinking we don’t have a lot of time to do “inner” work. But we have no choice. 

Wonder if each one of us took time to get mentally and physically healthy. Wonder if we stopped with the “busy, busy, busy” and be still. Wonder if we took a break from the “important, important, important” and focused on the simple and the light. 

Wonder if we got out of our heads and how significant our ideas are. Wonder if we stopped letting our feelings, our triggers, our grudges inform our every action. Wonder if we got into our bodies, its simple functions.

Not golf, where we take our business to the course. Not exercising, where we beat ourselves up to achieve ulterior goals…better bodies, better looks, better opportunities… Not counting laps at the pool or steps as we go about our daily tasks. 

Sigh. We are so damned goal orientated. We are so damned impressed by the busy, the important and the loud. 

Michelle recommends “going small”. Rather than letting her head stay in charge she reversed the flow by picking up knitting needles and letting her hands lead. As she says “I buckled my churning brain into the back seat and allowed my hands to drive the car.” Once she got the hang of the yarn overs and unders she said, “Something in the tiny and precise motion on repeat, the gentle rhythm of those clicking needles, moved my brain in a new direction.”

I’m thinking each one of us has our own sort of knitting that will help us reset our anxious brains and let go of our troubled feelings. Something that will help us find a new inner rhythm. Not counting steps, just putting one foot in front of the other. Not swimming laps, just taking the breaths and kicking the feet. Not networking on the golf course, just swinging the club and following the ball. Not getting the gardening done, just turning the soil.

I’m with Michelle. I hope 2023 is the year people decide to go small. And if we take it slow, relax, get quiet and enjoy simple movements on repeat for no other reason than to enjoy simple movements on repeat I think we can find a new groove. That’s it. Just a new groove. But if you need a big and significant reason for letting go of the big and significant I’m pretty sure your new groove will benefit the consequential things as well.


Peace on earth and goodwill towards men. It’s my favourite seasonal greeting.

It’s Christmas so it’s allowed to be biblical. But when I hear it my former life as a Bible student rushes back with a question. Is the Bible really giving a blessing to all humanity?

The whole thing reads “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will towards men.” At least that’s how it goes in the King James version (KJV)…the one my family read two times each day, during breakfast and after supper, everyday of my early life.

Right now I’m not thinking about the glory to God part. God is, obviously, not something you can put your finger on. So my sense is that how we give Him/Her/It glory has to be left up to our individual imagination. But giving glory, or at least giving acknowledgement and respect, to something greater than ourselves is worth thinking about if we have any hope of reversing our society’s current slide into narcissism. More on that some other time…

Peace on earth is also too big for me. I used to hope and even believe that one day I would see peace on earth. But I was a child then and now that I only have another decade or so on the earth (if I’m lucky) I am absolutely certain this planet will not see peace in my lifetime. 

What I’m thinking about these days is the “goodwill towards men” part of the Christmas card. I mean goodwill toward all humankind. Why are we doing such a terrible job of it these days?

Seriously. Can it be so hard?

You know the pass you give to your family, your friends and even your favourite political leader? You know how you make excuses for their bad behaviour? That’s what I’m talking about. Why can’t we extend that…that kind of goodwill…to everyone?

We’ve never needed it more than we do today. We will not “solve” the climate crisis without it. We will not deal with our healthcare, education, child and family, race, gender or housing crisis’ without it. We will not have peace in our families and our neighbourhoods without it. We cannot and will not make any useful collective decisions that address the monster issues of our day unless at the heart of our thinking is goodwill towards everyone.

But we just can’t seem to do it. I can’t seem to do it. Trumpites draped in stars and stripes…I cringe before I even meet them. Defenders of whiteness…I immediately want to argue. Religious fundamentalist zealots…trigger my shutdown response. I try but there are times when I just can’t find my good will.

I went back to my KJV source and read it again “Peace on earth and goodwill towards men.” Yes. That’s what I want. For everyone.

Then the weather-beaten, cynical old me looked a little deeper. I read the passage in several dozen other translations. Other than the KJV, only a handful say “goodwill towards men.” Most other versions add a qualifier something like “goodwill towards men with whom He is well pleased.” Or “goodwill among men of goodwill.” Or “goodwill among men whom He favours.”

Ah. Therein lies the flaw. The other versions add qualifiers. They describe exactly what we see everyday…goodwill to those in our bubble, to those we like, to those who we deem to be good.

Just like what I read on a Facebook meme the other day “I will be good to people who are good to me…it’s as simple as that.”

It’s no wonder we are stuck with our selves and our same-groups in this adolescent, self-absorbed, narcissism. It’s no wonder we are plagued by the dichotomy of  “us and them” with us pitted against rest of the world. It’s what we’ve been taught.

The trouble with much of the Bible is that it’s directed to a same-group. Right from the start the book is about a chosen people…and an unchosen. That sort of thinking might have worked in the past but now it’s time push our western cultural teachings to another level. There are things we need to relearn. (I can’t speak for other cultures but I from what I can see they aren’t doing a super job of embracing difference either so this is likely more than a western problem.)

Goodwill to everyone? Sigh. We aren’t even close. We haven’t grown up enough yet. And we won’t get there unless we get out of our tiny selves and our tiny same groups.

So I’m going to start with my tiny self. It’s my personal challenge. Sharing goodwill is my 2023 New Year’s resolution. And I don’t mean goodwill for all the people who I find interesting. I’m talking about the people who rub me the wrong way…the ones who have done me wrong…the ones who have no goodwill for me. It’s on the edges of easy that the real work needs to take place.

I’m not giving up on goodwill for all humanity. Even though it feels like an almost impossible global challenge in our colonized world where the planet’s peoples share the same neighbourhoods and hallways and smell what everyone’s cooking for dinner. And in our technological world where a quest for truth is no longer the ultimate journey but as easy as a quick scan of your own algorithm on the Internet.

Our predicament is bigger than the 1%. It’s bigger than corporations. It’s bigger than which media we listen to. It’s bigger than who we vote for. It’s bigger than the secret power mongers aiming to control the world or whether Trudeau or Fauci is telling the whole story.

It’s about listening to our planet writhe in pain. It’s about feeling the loss of our fellow creatures. It’s about putting ourselves into perspective and getting humble. It’s about going beyond how right we think we are, what we’ve been taught and what comes easy.

In 2023 let’s take it up a notch. I’m going to try. And if you’ve figured out how to do it can you let me know?