Charlie Chaplin

Political life in this era of Covid presents us with some unbalanced personalities, some cruelty, and some ignorance of others’ pain.  I’ve decided to go back in time to see if history can help.  I looked for someone who could cross the decades and speak to us today.

Charlie Chaplin was a British comic and actor.  He featured in many silent movies in the 20’s and 30’s.  He was loved by some, ridiculed by others.

In 1940, Charlie starred in the movie The Great Dictator, a satire about Adolf Hitler, and a biting critique of fascism.  The last five minutes of this film showed Charlie speaking to the audience, holding nothing back about the perils of the time.  His words were embraced by President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill.

Here they are:

I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor.  That’s not my business.  I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone.  I should like to help everyone – if possible – Jew, Gentile, black man, white.  We all want to help one another.  Human beings are like that.  We want to live by each other’s happiness – not by each other’s misery.  We don’t want to hate and despise one another.  In this world there is room for everyone.  And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone.  The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.

Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed.  We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in.  Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want.  Our knowledge has made us cynical.  Our cleverness, hard and unkind.  We think too much and feel too little.  More than machinery we need humanity.  More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness.  Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost …

The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together.  The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men – cries out for universal brotherhood – for the unity of us all.  Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world – millions of despairing men, women and little children – victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people.

To those who can hear me, I say – do not despair.  The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed – the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress.  The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people.  And so long as men die, liberty will never perish.

Soldiers!  Don’t give yourselves to brutes – men who despise you – enslave you – who regiment your lives – tell you what to do – what to think and what to feel!  Who drill you – diet you – treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder.  Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men – machine men with machine minds and machine hearts!  You are not machines!  You are not cattle!  You are men!  You have the love of humanity in your hearts!  You don’t hate!  Only the unloved hate – the unloved and the unnatural!  Soldiers!  Don’t fight for slavery!  Fight for liberty!

In the 17th Chapter of St. Luke it is written: “the Kingdom of God is within man” – not one man nor a group of men, but in all men!  In you!  You, the people, have the power – the power to create machines.  The power to create happiness!  You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.

Then – in the name of democracy – let us use that power – let us all unite.  Let us fight for a new world – a decent world that will give men a chance to work – that will give youth a future and old age a security.  By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power.  But they lie!  They do not fulfill that promise.  They never will!

Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people!  Now let us fight to fulfill that promise!  Let us fight to free the world – to do away with national barriers – to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance.  Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness.  Soldiers!  In the name of democracy, let us all unite!

Such a Long Journey

The journey began in June, 2018.  After three days of riding my bicycle in the Tour du Canada with seventeen other folks, I quit.  I was a mess emotionally – terrified and depressed.

In the weeks following, my right hand wouldn’t stop shaking.  I’d look in the mirror and wonder “Who’s that?”  I finally concluded that I had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  The shaking eventually stopped.  The fear of getting on a bicycle didn’t.

Oh, I argued with myself – that I should be a better person.  Man up.  Stop being a wimp.  None of that self-abuse helped.  Beyond my general enjoyment of myself was a vague sense of inferiority.  One long sigh of muted despair.

This July or August (I can’t remember), with the PTSD still lingering, and not having been on a bike for over two years, I knew I had to act.  Sygnan and Laura run Cyzzle Cycles and have provided me with impeccable service for many years.  I walked into their store and told them the truth.  Just as on the Tour du Canada, being so nakedly deficient in the company of dedicated cyclists was agonizing.  But I did it.  Sygnan and Laura listened with compassion, and Laura offered to coach me about “getting back on the horse”.

I wrote in my blog about shakily visiting the bike shop – the first day to simply get astride Betty while she was attached to a bike stand.  I’m guessing that few of you can understand the terror I felt to simply put my left foot on the pedal and then to swing my right leg over … but maybe I’m wrong.

A few days later, Laura took me to a nearby parking lot.  First she rode Betty in big circles, giving me instructions that I had known for years but which were so hard to hear in the moment.

And then … I rode!  It was a triumph of my own spirit.

But alas, it wasn’t a happy ending.  Back home, looking at Betty in the garage, the shaking returned.  I had just done what needed to be done, and now it looked once more like an impossible dream.  I was shocked at my lack of resolve to beat this thing.  I retreated into … the weather.  It was stifling hot mid-summer.  No wise human being would choose to cycle right now.  So “later” became the watchword.  The heat lingered and so did my defeat.

A few days ago, it was probably two months since I stayed up on Betty in the parking lot.  Back then, I told Laura that I’d call her as soon as I took Betty out on a ride.  No phone call.

I couldn’t even look myself in the mirror, nor look at Betty in the garage.  But a thought emerged: “Bruce, starting in January, for a year, you will be in the teacher training program of the Evolutionary Collective.  You will be challenged perhaps as never before.  Shouldn’t you move past any roadblocks that are compressing your aliveness?”  I gulped.  the answer was clearly “yes”.  But how?

Last night, I was watching the love between Rose and Jack unfold in the movie Titanic.  At some point before the ship hit the iceberg, I heard words bubbling up from inside: “Tomorrow at 10:00 am.”  Without thinking, I knew immediately what they meant.  I would ride Betty tomorrow morning.  

A calm surrounded me.  A little smile appeared.  I knew that the time had come.  I felt the ease blow through me.  Plus the astonishment. 

I cried as Jack died.  I went softly to bed and slept for eight hours.  I woke up wondering If I remembered all the details about cycling clothing and bike computer settings, and knew it didn’t matter if I didn’t.

At 9:55, the right pedal was aloft with my foot firmly placed.  I pressed down, found the left pedal under my other foot, and …

Rode

 

 

Charlie Chaplin

Political life in this era of Covid presents us with some unbalanced personalities, some cruelty, and some ignorance of others’ pain.  I’ve decided to go back in time to see if history can help.  I looked for someone who could cross the decades and speak to us today.

Charlie Chaplin was a British comic and actor.  He featured in many silent movies in the 20’s and 30’s.  He was loved by some, ridiculed by others.

In 1940, Charlie starred in the movie The Great Dictator, a satire about Adolf Hitler, and a biting critique of fascism.  The last five minutes of this film showed Charlie speaking to the audience, holding nothing back about the perils of the time.  His words were embraced by President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill.

Here they are:

I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor.  That’s not my business.  I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone.  I should like to help everyone – if possible – Jew, Gentile, black man, white.  We all want to help one another.  Human beings are like that.  We want to live by each other’s happiness – not by each other’s misery.  We don’t want to hate and despise one another.  In this world there is room for everyone.  And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone.  The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.

Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed.  We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in.  Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want.  Our knowledge has made us cynical.  Our cleverness, hard and unkind.  We think too much and feel too little.  More than machinery we need humanity.  More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness.  Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost …

The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together.  The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men – cries out for universal brotherhood – for the unity of us all.  Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world – millions of despairing men, women and little children – victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people.

To those who can hear me, I say – do not despair.  The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed – the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress.  The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people.  And so long as men die, liberty will never perish.

Soldiers!  Don’t give yourselves to brutes – men who despise you – enslave you – who regiment your lives – tell you what to do – what to think and what to feel!  Who drill you – diet you – treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder.  Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men – machine men with machine minds and machine hearts!  You are not machines!  You are not cattle!  You are men!  You have the love of humanity in your hearts!  You don’t hate!  Only the unloved hate – the unloved and the unnatural!  Soldiers!  Don’t fight for slavery!  Fight for liberty!

In the 17th Chapter of St. Luke it is written: “the Kingdom of God is within man” – not one man nor a group of men, but in all men!  In you!  You, the people, have the power – the power to create machines.  The power to create happiness!  You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.

Then – in the name of democracy – let us use that power – let us all unite.  Let us fight for a new world – a decent world that will give men a chance to work – that will give youth a future and old age a security.  By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power.  But they lie!  They do not fulfill that promise.  They never will!

Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people!  Now let us fight to fulfill that promise!  Let us fight to free the world – to do away with national barriers – to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance.  Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness.  Soldiers!  In the name of democracy, let us all unite!

Strong People … Please Come Here

I listened to Kamala Harris’ speech this afternoon as she put herself in the public eye as the Democratic nominee for US Vice-President. Passionate, pointed, tender … the whole thing.

Yesterday, Donald Trump wondered why Joe Biden had picked Harris, given her attack on him about busing in a Democratic debate last year.

According to Wikipedia: “Busing is the practice of assigning and transporting students to schools within or outside their local school districts in an effort to reduce the racial segregation in schools.”

Verbatim:

Kamala Harris: Do you agree today that you were wrong to oppose busing in America then?

Joe Biden: I did not oppose busing in America. What I opposed is busing ordered by the Department of Education.

Harris: There was a failure of states to integrate public schools in America. I was part of the second class to integrate Berkeley, California public schools almost two decades after [?] Board of Education.

Biden: Because your city council made that decision.

Harris: That’s where the federal government must step in. That’s why we have the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. That’s why we need to pass the Equality Act. That’s why we need to pass the ERA. Because there are moments in history where states fail to preserve the civil rights of all people.

Biden did not wither but I believe he was shaken. Many months later, Joe chooses Kamala as his running mate.

Surround yourself with partners
who are better than you are
Leave them to go get on with it

David Ogilvy

The Long Ride

I don’t know if you were reading my WordPress posts two years ago. If you were with me in June, 2018, you saw a man collapsing. I had just started riding my bicycle across Canada with seventeen other Tour du Canada cyclists. Aerobically I was in pretty good shape but my bike skills were woeful. I had ignored the advice from the Tour’s organizer: take a cycling skills course.

Within the first three days of the ride, I crashed three times and was continually terrified of the semitrailers passing within three metres of me. I couldn’t make the slow motion moves that were needed in downtown Vancouver traffic. Near Abbotsford, B.C., I misjudged the speed of a hillside left-turning car and just about had it all end.

I quit.

I spent two nights in a hotel with my bicycle propped against the wall. My hands shook, and they kept shaking for two weeks. “I’ll never ride again.”

Now it’s two years later. I still have remnants of the PTSD but they’re mild. A friend recommended I look at a video of a Bob Newhart TV sketch. A woman comes in for counselling since she’s terrified of being buried alive in a box. Bob says he’ll give her two words and then the therapy session will be over. She pulls out a notepad. Bob leans forward over his desk … and yells “Stop it!”

Woh. What? No months of therapy to deal with my now deepseated agony about being on the bicycle? No reliving my fear of impending death? No “processing” my life?

Okay. I went to my bike shop a couple of weeks ago. I had bought a more stable bicycle than the one I rode in 2018. Wide knobby tires instead of narrow smooth ones. Inside me was a fluttering but also a strange calm. Step number one: show up at the shop and tell my friends (manager and employee) the true story of June, 2018. They listened. They didn’t turn their backs.

Step number two was four days ago: I put on my cycling jersey and shorts. (Scary) I had my friends put the new bike on a stand, and I got on. I gulped … but there I was on the saddle. I pedaled. I changed gears. My heart was fast. I agonized about how to get the bike going and how to stop it. (Which foot goes where?) I couldn’t remember. I blasted myself for not being able to remember. And then I calmed down. I made an appointment to come back yesterday and ride in the big parking lot behind the shop, with coaching from my friend. I went home.

“Just stop it, Bruce!”

Yesterday came. I hadn’t slept much. The two of us moseyed out back with my bicycle, “Betty” by name. I tried squeezing out love for her but nothing came. My friend showed me how she gets on and off a bicycle. I got the “on” part but was still jangled by the “off”.

And then it was time for me. “I’m actually doing this” inside. Left foot on the ground, Right leg swung over the bike. Right foot on pedal, up high so I could push down mightily. “A ten-year-old kid knows how to do this!” > “Stop it!”

Push. I was up. I was going. “I didn’t catch my shorts on the saddle!” (Something I’ve done so many times in the past) Feeling Betty. Feeling the sensitivity of the brakes. A swooping left turn. The mouth opening in wonder.

And then the dark: “Which foot do I put down?” I just couldn’t remember. I decided the right one. Wrong choice. Brakes touched. Bike slowing … then lurching to the right as my right foot sought the pavement. I hopped. I stayed up. And I had my answer: left foot down.

Another few loops of the lot. “I can do this.” Brakes squeezed. Left foot down before I was going slow enough to do that. Another hop, but a good one this time. Going again, my friend watching with a little smile. Braking … slower … body lean to the left … foot falling through space … a gentle press on the pavement. Sweet.

There is much more skill needed. And I have time to do that. Betty and I have become friends. We will go places together.

My mind is being freed. My eyes face outward, seeing the unknown bends in the road rather than gazing at my belly button.

“Well done, Bruce.”

Doctor Wenliang

Doctor Li Wenliang was a 34-year-old ophthalmologist in Wuhan, China.  He died in February of Covid-19.  In December he heard disturbing reports about people who had become ill after going to a local market.  He did some research and his eyes opened horribly wide.  The illnesses looked like SARS.

So … what do you do, especially in a country like China, where speaking up is often followed by being shut up?  “What will happen to me if tell the truth as I see it?  What will happen to my family?”

Doctor Wenliang spoke up.

Li sent a message to his medical-school alumni group on December 30 warning that seven patients had been quarantined at Wuhan Central Hospital after coming down with a respiratory illness that seemed like the SARS coronavirus.

“When I saw them circulating online, I realized that it was out of my control and I would probably be punished,” Li told CNN.

What would it be … a government hit squad knocking down his door and dragging him away in front of his screaming children?  His personhood disappearing, due to some “indeterminate cause”?

Doctor Wenliang was no doubt terrified, while remaining absolutely committed to humanity.

The police did come, with a letter for Li to sign:

[We are] now filing an official warning and admonitions to you on the illegal issue of posting untrue statements on the Internet according to the law.  Your behavior severely disrupts social order.  Your behavior has exceeded the scope permitted by the law and violates the relevant provisions of “The Public Security Administration Punishment Law of the People’s Republic of China”, which is an illegal act!  The police authority hopes that you can co-operate with our work, listen to the admonishment by the police officers and stop conducting illegal activities.

We hope that you calm down and reflect carefully, and solemnly warn you: if you continue to be stubborn without any regret, and carry out illegal activities, you will be punished by the law!  Do you understand?

At the bottom of the letter, Doctor Wenliang signed, and wrote “Yes, I do.”

In a formal statement at this time, the police said they would “investigate and punish with zero tolerance these illegal acts that fabricate and spread rumours and disrupt social order”.

Your light will shine for a very long time, Doctor.

 

Hands Up

Sometimes I sit towards the back of the class as the Grade 5/6 kids gather on the carpet in front of the SmartBoard. The teacher was rolling through a Language lesson this afternoon, and most of the kids were engaged.

I looked at the variety of human beings spread before me. Outgoing, shy, adventurous, cautious … all of that is good. The world needs each of their flavours.

“Jeremy” often asked questions and I got to see hands going up. Quite a few of them, actually, like a little forest.

Every volunteering arm seemed to be straight up – beyond the crown of the head. Some fingers waved frantically. The kids so much wanted to be heard. I loved it.

I thought back many years to a time when I worked with blind children from Grade 5 to Grade 8. The hands of sighted classmates taught me. Grade 5’s showed me the same thing that I saw today. Gradually over the grades, however, the fingers stopped waving, and the height of hands dropped down to shoulder level. And there were far fewer volunteers.

Is this what happens to us human beings as we grow older? Do we gradually forget the zest and the thrill of sharing our thoughts? Yes, for some of us. There often is a dampening, a suppression, a desire not to stand out.

Ah, dear adults … let us return to the waving fingers. Let us stand up and be seen. Let us contribute our uniqueness to the general good. There is much work to be done.

Let It Go

I can’t remember what I was doing in 2013 but clearly it didn’t involve keeping up-to-date with hit movies. I had vaguely heard of Frozen but that’s as far as it went.

Early last December, I was talking to some kids about films and admitted that I hadn’t seen Frozen. The universal response was basically “What!?” with the implication that I must have spent a fair slice of my life in a cave. Having been suitably humbled, I added a movie viewing to my mental to do list.

Later in the month, on a plane that was going somewhere, the entertainment system revealed that Frozen was an option. I jumped at the chance, but I do believe fatigue diminished the available joy. The film made no real impact.

Then there was last night. Disney Plus was telling me that Frozen was only a click away. I clicked … and sat in wonder for the next two hours. Elsa was a revelation, and so was her sister Anna. I fell in love. They were both so alive, such examples of full humanity.

And then there was the song. Elsa was seeing a new realm inside her, ready to burst. I was pretty close too.

The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside
Couldn’t keep it in, heaven knows I’ve tried
Don’t let them in, don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know
Well, now they know

Now they know, Elsa. There’s no turning back after discovering a vivid, ecstatic, vibrant way to live. “Throw yourself into the world, Elsa.” And she did.

Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door
I don’t care what they’re going to say
Let the storm rage on
The cold never bothered me anyway

Ahh yes … they will say lots of things, some of them mean, designed to diminish the outrageous happiness brimming through you. “Settle down, Elsa.” No thanks. Bring on the winds. Let them buffet me, smash me to the ground. I’ll stand again.

It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all
It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me
I’m free

I’ve had my moments when those last two words escaped my mouth. It was real. It was a message I could trust. It was home … lying on the couch before a crackling fire.

Really getting that I’m free, now what will I do? Think I’ll watch Elsa one more time. I believe she has an answer or two.

Damning Courage

Mitt Romney, a Republican, voted to impeach Donald Trump, citing his “abuse of power”.

Criticism of Romney poured out of many mouths:

As a Utahn, I could not express more disgust for what Romney is doing. I ask Utahns to begin a recall of Mitt Romney as a senator for Utah. The precedence being set by his vote is damning to the country and its future.

Romney is now “officially a member of the resistance” and “should be expelled” from the Republican Party.

This is not the first time I’ve disagreed with Mitt, and I imagine it will not be the last. The bottom line is President Trump did nothing wrong, and the Republican Party is more united than ever behind him.

Mitt Romney absolutely despises that Donald Trump was elected POTUS and he was not. The sore loser mentality launched this sham impeachment and corruptly rigged and jammed it through the House.

As an American, does ANYONE, REALLY want Mitt Romney on their side?

Those that believe in the competence of Mitt Romney, what do you trust in him to do?

***

Romney knew what was coming if he spoke his heart. Party loyalty was expected. Mitt knew that his loyalty needed to be elsewhere … the principles of the US Constitution. So he looked America in the eye and said his truth.

Good for him.

Improvising Life

On the plane from San Francisco to Toronto last Friday, I thought about folk music. I thought about Acoustic Spotlight concerts at the home of Christine and John in London. Last night I showed up.

It’s cozy in the living room – long and narrow, full of couches and chairs. I was back home again.

A gentleman came to the front with his fiddle, ready to play a mini-set with Jake Levesque on the keyboard. Martin Horak is a jolly soul with a bend to the unrehearsed. He wanted to see what two musicians could do within the mystery of improvisation. No borders here. No set schedules. Instead a whole bunch of flow, weaving together a tapestry of notes.

Martin suggested that Jake play eight chords and that the violin would meander through the sequence with a mind of its own. I marvelled at the unknown tune which emerged … a fairyland of leaning into the next moment, again and again.

Next, Martin wanted Jake to create a melody from the wisdom of his fingers, and the fiddle would respond into the spaces with harmonies and counterpoint. As they put fingers to key and string, I didn’t know what was happening in the blending: “Who is leading and who is following?” It didn’t matter. The swaying of two human beings into the composition being composed was all right by me. Clouds parted and the shining illuminated us all.

One more time, with Jake playing increasingly minor and weird chords and Martin leaning into the disharmony with tender bowstrokes. What was going on in his mind as he was taken to fields afar? I’ll never know. What was clear was the union of the two players as they ventured forth into the land of audience cringing, and then took us out the other side.

Should a musical piece resolve at the end with a major chord?
Should poetry rhyme the second and fourth lines?
Should I contain myself within convention?

Or … not?