As time goes by …

You guys, kids make me feel so old … Kids I babysat have reached their thirties. Most of them now have kids, themselves, and they’re looking for babysitters. Kids I am too old to have babysat because I was making real money by the time their parents were looking for a sitter are in their twenties, and embarking on relationships and careers and life. Kids in university look like … well, kids, to me. Kids I gave birth to (ok, that makes it sound like there are alot of them – there are actually only two) are slightly taller than me, have shot past my shoe size, and are raiding my closet and make-up stash on a daily basis. Having big kids is awesome – but, again. So. Old.

It never fails to annoy and amuse me, in equal parts, to hear a question that starts with “Mom, when you were young …”  It blows my daughters’ fresh, young minds that there was a time when a personal computer took up a whole room, when a household contained only one phone (and it was tethered to the wall), when if you missed a TV show, you missed it, because there was no way of delaying or even recording them. When many people didn’t have any typing experience because typists typed on typewriters and sold their services to those who needed something typed. When penmanship mattered. When you had to wait a while to see the pictures you took. When you kept those pictures in an album, and shared them only when someone asked to see them – rather than making them public property, and flashing them in the face of anyone even remotely connected with you. I could go on and on – but I think that will make me sound like a grizzled grouch, so I won’t.

While I am well aware of how things have changed since I was a child, the changes that have occurred during my adult life seem a little more sneaky. My father-in-law, a wise and lovely man in many ways, says that time moves faster the older you get, comparing age with speed. I often feel like my twenties and thirties have been fairly steady, but then I see a cube-shaped TV. Or a flip-phone. Or a butterfly tramp stamp. I also think I look just like I always did, and so do all the people around me. Then I flip through a ten-year-old photo album, and I’m shocked by the glossy young faces beaming at me. That glossy young thing is still in there somewhere, I swear, but perhaps deeper beneath the surface than I care to think.

One of those times-have-changed moments came to me recently in the form of a newspaper. Ryan and I celebrated our fifteenth anniversary this past summer. Fifteen years of marriage! It’s been lovely, for the most part (no marriage is perfect, and anyone who acts like theirs is – well, that person’s a dirty liar complete with pants on fire). Tying the knot was a leap of faith that has led to this beautiful life. Our anniversary celebrations are pretty simple. Dinner out, glasses raised and clinked, an exchange of cards.

This year, though, I did a little something extra – I dug out the Ottawa Citizen (another thing that wasn’t there when I first subscribed – the Ottawa Citizen online) from August 2, 2003 (our wedding day) out of our closet. Right away, I noticed the very different logo and font. They’ve changed so subtly over the years that I didn’t notice until now, seeing old and new side-by-side. The paper was so much thicker, too, since readers couldn’t be pawned off to the website for “additional content” – and there were far fewer ads. The newspaper didn’t have to sell itself to sell itself, if you will. I’ll try not to bore you (perhaps I already have, but if you’re still here, it can’t be that bad) – but here are a few tidbits from that yellowed, dusty, fifteen-year-old treasure:

Mars came closer to Earth than it had in 60,000 years. 55,760,000 km, to be exact. How this was determined, I have no idea. Now, we’re talking about living there!

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A hadrosaur skeleton was found in northern Alberta. Until then, these duck-billed dinos were thought to live south of Edmonton only. This has not changed anyone’s life. But everyone loves dinosaurs, right?

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The legalization of gay marriage was being debated. Now, it’s a fact of life in Canada.

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Omar Khadr’s saga was just beginning. He was captured and sent to Guantanamo Bay to be tortured and rot in 2002. However, he was interviewed by RCMP and CSIS investigators in 2003. Since then, he’s been recognized as Canada’s child soldier, and therefore Canada’s responsibility – and, against all odds, seems to be doing well these days.

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America was still seeking Saddam Hussein. By the end of the year, they would capture him in his “spider hole”. The next three years would see him charged with, tried for, found guilty of, and executed for crimes against humanity in general, and war crimes specifically.

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An editorial extolled the virtues of the Yellow Pages. Remember them? I flipped through those highly organized grainy pages many times, in search of a roofer or a plumber or a piano tuner or a furniture store. They also made a good booster seat, and a fine prop for wobbly furniture.

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Great buzz was being generated by a new product: the Biniki. This is a sort of bra for your ass. It promises to “lift and define the derriere, smooth out the backs of the thighs and, in general, beautify the backside.” It works like this: “Biniki consists of two leg loops that are attached at very specific points along the waist-hip band. The leg loops are designed to perfectly encircle the bottom. Once Biniki’s waist-hip bands are in place and the leg loops are self-adjusted to fit the individual, the skin on the backs of the thighs will lift up, the bottom will be raised and Biniki is guaranteed to stay in place.” Sounds so comfy! Can’t imagine why everyone’s not wearing one … Before, and after:

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Men with saggy asses could wear a Maniki. I couldn’t find a picture, mercifully.

Housing prices were soaring. The ever-present, always-consulted, generally vaguely-referenced “experts” were warning of a bust to follow the boom. You know what they say: the more things change, the more they stay the same …

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I can’t stop time – and, mainly, I don’t want to stop progress. However, I can – and must – deliver on the implied promise of the title of this post. Sit back, close your eyes, and enjoy Ella Fitzgerald’s rendition of this beautiful song

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Aces

 

I wear an awful lot of hats. Possibly, the weightiest one is that of mother. It’s a huge part of my life, so it’s not surprising that I’ve written a great deal about motherhood. It is joy and pride, as well as sorrow. It is hard work, and incredible reward. Mothering small children is simple. Not easy, but fairly basic. You make sure they are nourished and clothed, and you start to teach them skills like sleeping through the night on their own, expressing themselves in socially acceptable ways, and treating other people decently. You work out household rules and discipline tactics. You try not to lose yourself in the process – you want to be more than just Mommy.

In terms of the daily grind, big kids win – no contest. They bathe and dress themselves, and do their own hair. They get their own snacks – and even their own meals (though not every day, unless you don’t mind them coming down with scurvy). They do their own laundry. They can manage most of their homework on their own. I have not encountered many people who hate homework more than me. Your kindergartener is adorable, believe me – but I’m done coaxing kids to sound out words, pushing them to read and write in french, and proofing penmanship, and I like it that way. When I am rushing to slap some dinner down in front of my hungry family at the end of a long day, I can ask Fiona or Bridget to set the table, take and fill drink orders, chop veggies and meat, throw a salad together. They empty the dishwasher. They mop and vacuum. We don’t have to pay for daycare. We can play board games more complicated than Chutes & Ladders and Hungry Hungry Hippos. We appreciate many of the same foods, songs and movies. They have a wicked sense of humour, strong opinions, interesting takes on the world. The pleasure of their company outweighs the work and fuss.

All that being said, sometimes I feel like time is moving too fast … For one thing, people love to tell me how awful my life will be once I have two older kids. Just wait, they say. You’ll be nothing to them. They will ignore everything you say and do until they’re about 25. Though there have been challenges, neither girl has been as horrible as these assholes seem to hope they’ll be. Turning 30 didn’t bother me. Pretty sure 40 won’t phase me, either. But Fiona turning 13 this summer? That has hit me hard. I have a teenager. Yesterday, Fiona and Bridget returned to school after a long, lovely summer break (yes, I know, I owe everyone a blow-by-blow of our road trip – I’ll get to that). Grade 8 and grade 6! Back-to-school is bittersweet for me. I’ve never been one of those parents who can’t wait for September. But I am very excited for the girls. They’ve been planning their look and their moves and their whole damn school year for days. They woke up like firecrackers, and they couldn’t stop grinning and giggling. But I am also sad. Each school year brings challenges and opportunities that will change them utterly. I will never see these kids, as they are right now, again. They’re gone the moment they set foot in the classroom on the first day, and they’re never coming back.

Yet, when we hang out together, watching TV or reading, they both want to sit next to me. One on either side. They lean heads on my shoulder, they sneakily sniff my hair. Their hands creep their way into mine. They need just a few minutes, talking to me about their dreams and joys and frustrations, before we say goodnight. Every morning, they come find me, still warm from the bed, for a welcome-to-the-new-day hug. I have not lost two cuddlers – I have gained two young ladies, self-sufficient and smart and sarcastic, who still need my hugs. They may be as big as me, but they still need me. Everything’s still coming up aces for this mother.

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Constitutional rights of conscience, religion, thought, belief, opinion, expression and association – but only if your conscience toes the ruling party’s line?

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From the age of sixteen, I have spent summers working. I worked in St. John’s that first year, dividing my time between the Newfoundland Institute of Cold Ocean Science and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The next year, I worked for my town, doing everything from community fundraisers to cemetary maintenance to cleaning the fire hall to supervising a kids’ dance. Then, it was answering phones and greeting visitors to what was then known as the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (now called Indigenous and Northern Affairs). The following two summers were spent doing grunt work for Newfoundland’s Forestry and Agrifoods Agency. I got an excellent tan. All of these jobs were available to me because of government support for student employment. In addition to broadening my work experience and honing valuable administrative, leadership, social and life skills, they were a great help in getting me through school, along with student loans, and – of course – the Bank of Mom and Dad.

Fast-forward more years than I care to dwell on: at mass yesterday, the priest read a letter composed by Bishop Douglas Crosby of the Diocese of Hamilton. The letter was about two camps that are supported by the parish – one a mentoring-and-leadership camp that is affordable even to those whose families can’t afford to send them to camp, and one for children with mobility challenges (for example, spina bifida and cerebral palsy) who need physical assistance to participate in the camp activities typically enjoyed by able-bodied children. These camps have traditionally been assisted by government funding to hire students to help run things. Many tasks, from janitorial and cooking duties to supervising the children, are completed by students. The campers gain positive, relatable role models. The students gain experience and skills. If it’s like any other summer camp I’ve heard of, everyone gains great memories and increased confidence. These camps are now, apparently, at risk because they have been denied public funding for student positions. Why? Because the Catholic church would not deny its convictions and attest to its support for abortion. If you feel that a church’s position on abortion and a church-supported camp’s ability to hire a lifeguard ought not to be connected, you’re not alone.

The federal government’s recently introduced policy of denying student job funding (via FSWEP, the Federal Student Work Experience Program) to groups who refuse to attest to their support for abortion rights has been controversial. In addition to camps like the ones mentioned above, churches have always been a solid support for vulnerable and marginalized communities through everything from food banks to youth centres to sponsorship of refugees to breakfast programs to charity shops to hospices – and more. The students hired by churches are not being paid to protest abortion rights. They’re being paid to help the parish carry out these vital services to the community. Many churches are trying to put their money where their mouth is, as is the Diocese of Hamilton, by collecting donations from members. But the charitable giving of most churchgoers is already high. The additional burden of funding programs that were once covered by government grants will likely result in money being stretched thinner across more surface area. Previously robust initiatives may suffer, and newly supported initiatives may not be able to survive.

The struggles of churches and church-supported programs are probably not going to attract much sympathy or even interest. Reactions might even include some ill-concealed glee. If there’s one thing people love to hate these days, it’s religion – and, by extension, religious institutions and religious people. Abortion rights is a very hot topic with strong feelings on both sides. However, regardless of whether you like churches and churchgoers, regardless of your position on abortion, what should attract a great deal of interest is the government’s infringement on the constitutional right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief, opinion, expression and association.

Abortion is legal. This means that any woman who wants one has a right to seek one. Canada has gone one step further and made them publicly funded, so money is no obstacle. This is not likely to change – Canadians have, for the most part, accepted the reality of living in a country that supports and pays for abortion. Many Canadians have longed for that right, and actively promoted it. However, constitutional rights are enshrined. I cannot change the law, but I don’t have to like it or support it. In fact, constitutionally, I should be allowed to hate it – and say so – and be a member of an organization that condemns it. Furthermore, if my constitutional rights are being properly upheld, I should still be granted full access to the same publicly funded programs as those who cherish the right to abortion on the taxpayer’s tab.

The Trudeau government took its first step down a very slippery slope when Justin Trudeau declared that pro-lifers could not run as Liberals. Many people were disturbed by his apparent desire to surround himself with yes-men, and his refusal to entertain any viewpoint other than his own, on such a controversial topic. In true Justin style, he steamrolled over these concerns and moved on. The issue of whether people whose conscience will not allow them to support abortion rights should be considered for student employment funding will probably not be treated any differently.

As I said, a slippery slope. What’s next? Will public servants have to sign their support for things they don’t agree with to keep their jobs? Will there be a new checkbox on social assistance applications that allows Canada to make sure it isn’t providing financial aid to people with unpopular views? What about student loans for people who don’t agree with abortion? Will those be affected? These examples may sound extreme, but it’s all public money – just like FSWEP. People who don’t agree with the Liberal party’s policies or even Canadian law are still Canadians – many of whom pay for FSWEP and other such programs with their taxes. As Canadians, they should be entitled to believe whatever they like, and say so, with no fear of it affecting their access to public funding and programs. Anything else – in this case, the hypocrisy of a government that claims to uphold the rights and freedoms of all of us while making second-class citizens of people who don’t hold or support approved views – is unconstitutional.

 

Green Gifts

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Though you wouldn’t know it right now, it’s spring. (Seriously, April – what’s with yesterday’s blizzard and this morning’s -20 C wake-up? Are you trying to be an asshole, or does it come naturally?) This time of the year, my thoughts turn to gardening. You guys, I love gardening. It wasn’t always this way. I used to be the kind of person who couldn’t keep a weed alive. I once killed an air plant. Seriously. Google “air plant”, and try to count how many times the word “easy” appears in the search results.

One of the great discoveries of your thirties is this: though you are finally, firmly an adult, you’re far from a done deal. You can – and should – continue to learn new things and dive into new passions. Really, what pushed me into gardening was moving into our current home. It came with beautifully established gardens on all sides, planted and tended by someone who really knew their stuff. From the departure of rotten spring snow til the falling of fresh stuff, lovely bits of life pop up in various spots. Between April and October, there’s always a flower to enjoy somewhere. There are lots of bushes, and tall trees, too. We bought the house in March, and had no idea what living surprises awaited us until we moved the following June.

Of course, it’s not all roses. (See what I did there?) The lovely bushes and trees cost us a fortune in trimming and removal last year, after we realized that one day we might just wake up to find ourselves smothered, jungle-style, if we didn’t fight back. We have wild roses along our back fence that send out runners aplenty, which all have to be ripped out by hand. We have blackberries. That’s nice when we’re nibbling on them. It’s considerably less nice when we’re trying to keep the prickly vines from eating our entire yard. We have a maple tree. Every year, I uproot dozens of baby maples. Those cute little seedlings grow up, you see, and we have room for one – not 78. There’s plenty of mowing for the mister to do. And, while I don’t mind the odd weed (in fact, I adore some weeds, like dandelions), or the lived-in look, I have a deep – possibly obsessive – need for tidiness. The sight of things growing between interlocking bricks makes me crazy, and I suspect that the previous owner of our house had an interlocking brick fetish (if there is such a thing – someone look it up, please). My back is already weeping at the thought of the stooping ahead.

But the learning, the sense of accomplishment, the satisfaction – the joy – it gives me is worth everything it costs. Gardening has taught me so many important things that can be applied to life.

The first thing you see often isn’t the most important thing, and it’s never an island unto itself. From the street, you see a tree. What you don’t see is the rich soil supporting it, insects tunneling in and out of it, enriching it. The strong root system pumping water and nutrients. The wind challenging, shaping and strengthening the trunk. You see a flower. What you don’t see are the smaller plants bracing it. The larger plants sheltering it. The butterflies, bees and wasps pollinating it. The sun and rain feeding it. We all have a part to play.

Things aren’t always what they look like at first. Along the back wall of our house, there is a slow-growing plant with a few dead ends. Its leaves are rather plain. It’s got vicious thorns. For three summers, it hooked my clothes and drew blood, and I chopped it down. Yet it kept coming back – I could not get rid of it. I hated that thing. One summer, I was away alot, and didn’t have time to do my usual hack job. I returned to find it sporting 18 beautiful red roses. With plants, colour and beauty can come from the dullest of corners. Loveliness can lie dormant for long years. So it is with people, if we give them a chance.

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Don’t wait until an opportunity presents itself – enjoy what you have nowThe roses on that bush last a week at most. Some flowers are in their glory for far less time than that. You have to admire them, take pictures of them, pick them to grace your table when they show up – not when your life slows down, or plans have been cancelled, and you have an extra moment. When it comes to flowers, stop and make a moment. They might not be there tomorrow. Maybe you won’t, either.

Be careful what you encourage, whether actively or passively. In a garden, the fastest, most competitive growers are usually the ones you don’t want. Ignore them for an inch, and they’ll take a mile. Get lazy for a week, and they’ll start strangling all the good plants around them. Leave them for a month, and they’ll be all that’s left by the time you come back. The easiest thoughts are negative. The easiest courses of action are lazy. Apathy and evil will flow into a void, take root and boil over. For good things to flourish, you have to pursue them, encourage them and defend them tirelessly.

Even the best-laid plants (and plans) can go awry. You select a plant because something about it calls to you. You gently transport it home, choose the best spot for it, carefully plant it and water it in. You picture excitedly how gorgeous it will be when it begins to flourish. You might even bore your husband and kids and friends with it (if you’re me). Then, a late frost shrivels and blackens it. Or a violent downpour washes it right out of the ground. Or a particularly cruel sun withers and yellows it. Or an animal tears it up. Heartbreaking, but there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. You knew you were risking all of those things when you put that sprout in the ground. It feels even more personal and savage if it’s a plant you grew from seed. Houses burn down. Whole towns flood out and float away. Businesses go under. Children die. It doesn’t matter how much of your heart you put into them – some cruel force can just sweep them away anytime. Control is an illusion, foolish at best and dangerous at worst. But if the alternative is not to bother … Well, I’ll take the risk, for a chance to live my life in full, rich colour.

Just beBreathe in, breathe out. Sometimes, the true contentment is found in the journey – in the work. Pick slowly through a tangle of tender green, the smell of rich earth rising, with the sun soaking into your back and your feet firmly planted. Inch by inch, pay close attention to detail. Listen to your heartbeat. Entertain your thoughts. Lose the clock. Lose your expectations. Find yourself.

A musical journey through Beth’s 2017 …

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At the beginning of every year, I make a list of the my 40 favourite songs from the previous year. It’s fun to look back over the musical landscape of the past twelve months. The songs make me smile, cry and remember. I started doing this in 2014 – and I’ve not missed a year since. Ryan has dutifully listened to every chart in its entirety – not because he likes my music. He makes no bones about the fact that he thinks some of my musical tastes are appalling. That’s fine by me because I know I’m right. This is, after all, BethBlog. No, he listens because he’s an avid music fan, a lover of numbers – and a grand husband. And I’m sure all my faithful readers totally listen to every song, too. Right? Right? Of course, you do!

Having made the chart in January, I would like to publish it before Easter. Have I mentioned that I still can’t seem to conquer my way-too-much-all-the-damn-time? Sigh … So, without further ado, the following list is my Top 40 of 2017. As usual, I’ve ordered them from barely-hanging-on #40 to glittering #1 – and I’ve provided links so you can listen along. And, as usual, there are plenty of genres to enjoy. From rap to pop tarts to yee-haws …

40. Chained to the Rhythm – Katy Perry feat. Skip Marley

39. Believer – Imagine Dragons

38. … Ready for it? – Taylor Swift

37. Reminder – The Weeknd

36. Look What You Made Me Do – Taylor Swift

35. Praying – Kesha

34. Scars to your Beautiful – Alessia Cara

33. You’re the Best Thing About Me – U2

32. Rockabye – Clean Bandit feat. Sean Paul & Anne-Marie

31. Bad at Love – Halsey

30. If I Yold You – Darius Rucker

29. Born Yesterday – Hollerado

28. Blood in the Cut – K-Flay

27. Glorious – Macklemore feat. Skylar Grey

26. Bank Account – 21 Savage

25. I Got You – Bebe Rexha

24. The Way You Used To Do – Queens of the Stone Age

23. The Story of OJ – Jay Z

22. The Man – The Killers

21. No Such Thing As A Broken Heart – Old Dominion

20. How to Boil an Egg – Courtney Barnett

19. Thunder – Imagine Dragons

18. Strip That Down – Liam Payne feat. Quavo

17. Wish I Knew You – The Revivalists

16. Bad Liar – Selena Gomez

15. Los Ageless – St. Vincent

14. High – Sir Sly

13. Issues – Julia Michaels

12. Bad and Boujee – Migos feat. Lil Uzi Vert

11. Creature Comfort – Arcade Fire

10. Love Me Now – John Legend

9. rockstar – Post Malone feat. 21 Savage

8. Starboy – The Weeknd feat. Daft Punk

7. Something for Your Mind – Superorganism

6. Shark Smile – Big Thief

5. Sign of the Times – Harry Styles

4. Million Reasons – Lady Gaga

3. New Rules – Dua Lipa

2. Man Listen – Belly

If you’re still with me, thank you … Your reward is Lorde, dancing in with #1, the hypnotic, urgent, sexy “Green Light”! Happy listening!

My thoughts and prayers should not be the focus of your anger right now.

Another day in America, another school shooting  A little over a week ago, Nikolas Cruz (a troubled former student of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida), opened fire in the school, killing 17 people and wounding many others. We’re shocked and horrified – again. We’re holding our children just a little tighter – again. We’re angry that such violence is allowed to exist in our world – again. Families are still burying their dead, and Americans are searching for answers and solutions – again. We Canadians are peeking through our blinds at our neighbour’s latest domestic disturbance, feeling both sorry for, and superior to, them. Social media is awash with sorrow and outrage on behalf of the families terrorized by the daily possibility of a school shooting. And rightly so: there were 65 of them in the US last year. They’re on track to beat their own record this year – it’s only February, and there have already been nearly 20 occurrences of a live round being discharged in a school building or on a school campus. Another common theme – at least, in my newsfeed, anyway – is smugness. We’ve got gun control, so we don’t have school shootings. Yay, Canada! Again, rightly so: I worry about lots of things when I kiss my kids goodbye in the morning, but a school shootings – nearly non-existent in Canada – are very low on the list.

Over the past few months, I’ve been seeing another theme emerge: screw your thoughts and prayers, you useless hypocrite, and do something.

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In my opinion, memes like these are judgmental, patronizing, insulting and presumptuous. How do you know that the person who’s praying isn’t doing anything about the problem? You don’t. You just assume. How dare you judge someone else’s sincerity or try to censor their reaction to what is happening, just because their response is not like yours? How arrogant of you to decide that a person is lazily ignoring all possible solutions in favour of prayer and meditation, when all you actually know about the person is that he or she shared a thoughts-and-prayers meme.

Even worse, people share memes like this one, which implies that people who pray are worse than useless – they’re using their prayers to feel like they’re doing something productive so they won’t feel guilty about not doing something:

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Again with the presumption, judgement and insult.

Clearly, if you are sharing memes like the examples above, you don’t believe in praying. You believe that it has no value – and, indeed, no place in the life of any intelligent human being. However, there are millions of people who do not feel that way – myself included. I have known, all my life, that I am surrounded by prayer. My grandparents prayed for me faithfully. So did my father. So does my mother, and my mother-in-law, my husband and my children. So do some of my friends. Does it change things in my life? Maybe – but, again, you don’t believe it. So I guess that’s my personal leap of faith … Does it make me feel better about pretty much everything? Yes. No matter what comes my way, no matter how low I feel, knowing that someone is praying for me – loves me enough to hit their knees on my behalf, and wish me the best – is like receiving a strong hug from invisible arms.

When a child falls and hurts themselves, one of the first things most people do is hug them and speak gently to them. It won’t mop the blood from their knees or heal their bruises, but it will be comforting. It will show the little one they’re not alone, and that someone is watching and cares. When a friend comes out with bad news, most of us will hold that friend and tell them we are there for them. We can’t lift them out of debt, fix the struggles of their children, or bring a dead spouse or parent back to life. But they will draw strength from the warmth of our touch, the emotional caress of our concern. They will know someone sees their pain and gives a damn.

Imagine, now, that it suddenly became trendy to mock that response.

“Hey, you – it’s adorable that you can give hugs instead of making actual change.”

“Oh, look, you kissed her boo-boo! Now it’s going to magically disappear … Or not. Because science.”

“Hug away, selfish asshole. At least now you won’t have to actually help somebody, because you’ve made yourself feel like you already have.”

“Oh, sure, listen to her whine, then tell her you’re there for her. ‘Cause that will totally cure your friend’s cancer.”

Most people wouldn’t do that. That would be insensitive, crass and just plain mean. But so many seem to have no qualms about trampling on heartfelt wishes and bone-deep beliefs, offered by people who are just trying to get through life with a little grace and kindness. I have no control over American politics. I can’t raise shooting victims from the dead and give them back to their family. I can’t banish the nightmares of the survivors. My earnest desire that things will get better, my terribly inadequate shreds of sympathy, my prayers – are sometimes all I have to give. And, frankly, if they never do an ounce of good, at least they’re positive and unifying. That’s alot more than can be said for mean-spirited memes.

Triggered.

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Ladies and gentlemen (if that’s not too harsh and repressive an address for you), we are gathered here today to mourn the death of Open Debate at Wilfred Laurier University. Mr. Debate … Ms.? Zr.? I must make a note to ask how dear old Open would like to be addressed. Moving on … Mr. Debate was an essential part of learning about our complicated world, and furnishing the empty rooms of our minds with all sorts of interesting ideas. One might say that he … Sorry. Zie? They? Oh, sod it. Let’s not talk about Open Debate at all, as we really have no idea how to do it without upsetting people anyway. Perhaps there’s nothing to mourn, as it appears more important to coddle people’s highly tuned sensibilities than to introduce them to any opinion other than the one they already espouse.

Lindsay Shepherd knows all about it. She’s a 22-year-old grad student and teaching assistant. In one of her classes, “Canadian Communication in Context”, she showed an excerpt from a video debate featuring a University of Toronto psychology prof named Jordan Peterson. Peterson inspired controversy last fall when he criticized Bill C-15, which added gender expression and gender identity to the federal human rights act and the Criminal Code. He refuses to use gender-neutral pronouns such as “they”, “zie” and “zher”, which – as one might imagine – further annoys quite a few people. One or more students complained that, by showing the video clip, Shepherd created a “toxic environment”. Not by endorsing Peterson’s views – but by not condemning them. In other words, for neutrally presenting the video – for not taking a position herself in front of the class – Shepherd was labelled “transphobic”, and accused of “cultivating a space” where opinions such as Peterson’s can be “nurtured”. She is now required to submit all lesson plans to her supervisor (Nathan Rambukkana) in advance. He will sit in on her next few classes. She must not submit any more controversial videos of this kind. Rambukkana, told Shepherd that showing the video was akin to “neutrally playing a speech by Hitler“.

I wish I wasn’t regularly required to say things like this, but here goes … Peterson, though boorish, is no Hitler. In comparing Jordan Peterson with Adolph Hitler, Rambukkana makes a stunning leap across the brutal occupation of eleven sovereign nations, the savagely creative murders of six million people, and the ignominy of their desecrated bodies and mass graves. Yes, indeed, openly criticising an Act of Parliament and refusing to use preferred pronouns is exactly the same as the Holocaust. I personally challenge Rambukkana to say this in front of Holocaust survivors and their families. I have a feeling the ensuing debate would be lively – but, in light of what has happened to Shepherd, I probably wouldn’t be allowed to listen to it.

This is, sadly, one of many recent examples of the strangling of free speech and open debate in our universities. Even when freedom of expression and disagreement are   allowed to exist, they come with so-called trigger warnings because they might – gasp – bother someone. Universities, once the cradle of objective thought and exchange of ideas, are becoming simply cradles. Sprawling, expensively equipped, beautifully manicured “safe spaces”, where what was once considered challenging is now termed triggering. Where emotionally insulated and stunted people hide behind anonymous complaints to the administration rather than listening to, and learning to intelligently confront, opposing views.

My university days are rapidly fading in the rear view mirror, but two academic experiences come back to me when I think of what happened to Lindsay Shepherd at Wilfred Laurier. One is a debate about GMOs in which I took the part of the widely disliked Monsanto and Frankenfoods – not because I was a fan of the company, but because I was assigned that side of the debate – and we all thought it was important to present all perspectives. Aside from the odd jokey “boo”, people listened to what I had to say – because respect is an important ingredient in the success of a debate. The second is a David Suzuki documentary about the suffering of animals on their way to becoming food in Asia. Scenes ranged from chickens plucked while still alive to live dogs displayed in cages for purchase and consumption to – most disturbing of all – skinned cats held by a metal ring around their necks being boiled alive. Watching those pink, bony bodies floundering weakly, imagining the pain they were undoubtedly feeling, I felt nauseous. I’ve never forgotten the sight. Our ethics prof had made this required viewing. Though he warned us that it was graphic, nobody asked to be excused – again, because we all thought it was important to present all perspectives. The documentary sparked hours of conversation about the experience of animals from farm to table, and what we owe them as keepers and consumers, and how to implement policy changes where needed. What was triggered? Interest. Learning. Debate. Understanding. Personal growth. I believe that I, and my fellow students, emerged from these experiences (and many others) challenged and changed.

This is what university – and learning in general – is for. What will we accomplish if we surround ourselves only with people who agree with us? If we shout down, silence or run from anyone who says things we don’t like, how will we learn enough about them to engage them in meaningful discussion and introduce them to our own perspective? In taking this approach, Wilfred Laurier University is actually harming the community it wishes to protect. If trans people are to be accepted (in more than just law) as ordinary members of society, with all the rights and privileges this entails, we have to dissect and disarm negative perceptions of them. We can’t accomplish that by simply telling naysayers to shut up and go away – and we certainly won’t get there by forcibly suppressing anyone who dares to raise the issue.