tendrils of evil, weeds and people

The best time to weed is after a rain, so this morning was a great time to get in the garden and dig out the newest batch of weeds.  I use this time for reflection and meditation.  There exists the obvious parallels to weeding the garden and weeding out the negative influences in our life.  Or surprisingly,  even the recognition that sometimes we think that something is bad and it turns out to be good(like dandelions)!  All sorts of odd thoughts can pop up as I weed.

The Poppy Family, had a hit song in the 70’s called “Where Evil Grows”…check it out(The Poppy Family-Where Evil Grows. you tube).  I remember every word to that song even though I was only 7 when it came out.  As I dig in my garden, these are the words that always come to mind:

Evil grows in the dark, where the sun never shines
Evil grows in cracks and holes and lives in people’s minds.


I came in from my morning chores and swim, to sit with Pat and read The Globe and Mail.  Interesting that the lead story in the Focus section is entitled “The Anatomy of Evil”.  The article is lengthy and speaks to the many theories surrounding the continued presence of evil in our highly evolved world.  It notes that scientists are investigating another layer to continued evil, beyond the obvious factors of social and physical abuses suffered in childhood.  Presented is the supposition that evil can also be traced neurologically.  That the connections to the part of the brain that supports empathy can be turned off purposefully in order that evil acts can be perpetrated.

Cambridge psychopathology researcher, Simon Baron Cohen, says that early childhood nurturing is the pot of gold.  The absence of which “affects brain development, probably irreversibly”.  I remember years ago, a young man in Goderich was on trial for the death of two people as a result of his drunk driving.  A woman I know said : “oh that’s John Doe…that’s no surprise, his family were losers.  He’s a loser too”.  I would agree that driving drunk is a loser thing to do, but the unequivocal belief that this young man was a loser just because his family was bothered me.  Were there no teachers, clergy, doctors or neighbours that would offer any seeds of hope and understanding to the boy as he was growing up?  If we agree that it takes a village to raise a child, then do we all not have some level of complicity when children grow up to be bad or evil?  I do believe in the over-riding necessity of personal responsibility; but I don’t believe that a child comes into the world intending to be bad.

I know a number of teachers, Pats aunts Anne and Margaret among them, that seemed to see this.  They saw and worked with inner city kids, and from what I can tell, helped them by holding them up to the same standards of all the other kids.  My friend Heather does the same thing.  That in and of itself shows respect.  Instead of saying “oh those kids come from a bad family” and not giving them the time of day; what would happen if we chose to look past the dirty clothes, soiled hair, and poor grooming and saw the human being?  What would happen if we placed the same expectations on them, gave them the same encouragement and support we so willingly give to the bright and pleasant kids.  If we are so sure in stating that a criminal can “turn-off” neural pathways in order to commit crimes, then is it not true that those same neurons are turned-off by us, in order to ignore a struggling child?  Both cut off the circuitry to access empathy.

I was one of those kids that would have been labelled coming from “a loser family”.  I remember taunts, and I remember that some teachers treated those of us who did not belong to the right family with indifference and sometimes disdain.  I wanted to be on the other side of the classroom where the sun shone for some.  I don’t know how or why I worked so hard to grow beyond imposed limitations, but I did.  As I worked, more people came into my life that supported my growth.  I had a track coach that didn’t care about my family or where I grew up.  His expectations of me helped to later define the expectations I place upon myself.

I remember one difficult practice, where I was feeling really sad(he didn’t know this) about some stuff going on at home, and it was affecting my performance, dialogue and efforts.  He called me on it.  He said that if I was going to come to practice carrying around negative thoughts then not to bother coming.  A verbal smack up side the head.  It was a tough lesson, but so valuable.   I also learned that it was important to validate the sadness, but that there was a time and a place.

When we ignore the weeds, we allow them to grow stronger in the damp and dark….same as people.  For these reasons, I will look at the tattooed, surly gas pump attendant and I will say thank-you.  I will smile at the pocked, bad teeth woman at the check-out because I am just a bad decision away from them.  I take that back..I am one of them.

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“poopie” and other names that can define character

I read recently an interview written by Gordon Pitts in The Globe and Mail.  Pitts sat down with the former CEO of The Home Depot, Annette Verschuren and got a great story.  Not only was the article interesting to read because of her work history, but he unearthed a nugget(no pun intended)  when he found that Verschuren’s childhood nickname was “poopie”.  Verschuren explains that there was a consistent odour of cow manure on her clothes because of her morning chores on the family farm.

There was a boy in my grade one class who sadly received the moniker,”poopie-pants” because he pooped his pants while waiting to go into the library for story time.  I was both mortified for him and felt sad too.  The poor guy was known as “poopie pants, or sometimes “pp”, all through grade school.  I don’t know if he feels that that incident was something that gave him strength; helped him develop empathy or, served to always shame him.  These kinds of things can go either way.

Not long after the “poopie pants” saga,  I was given the nick name “pelican”; or “peli” for short by a guy named Micheal.  It didn’t bother me.  Hardly anyone knew back-in-the-day what a pelican was.  I sort of liked the mysteriousness of it.  I was after-all only in grade two by then.   Michael thought that a pelican had long skinny, nobby legs…like mine.  Finally in grade four, and loving a dictionary, I eventually found out that of course he meant a flamingo.  Thinking that I was really smart, I described the differences between the two.  Michael then pronounced “either way, they both have big mouths”.  Ouch!  This was so unfair because he was the bully!…. I was indignant because I was using my “big mouth” responsibly; to stand up to him when ever he made fun of people.   No matter, Peli stuck all the way to high school.

I love that Ms.Verschuren chose not to run or hide from her nickname.  She readily admits that some of her friends still call her poopie.  It speaks to the fact that she embraced her family and her work on the farm.  There is a pragmatic quality to the acceptance of what could have been a raw insecurity.  This same pragmatism clearly served her well as she steadfastly pursued a career in big business, creating access for herself to the upper echelon as CEO of The Home Depot Canada. I believe that Ms. Verschuren understood the necessity to examine fearlessly that which we wish to grow.  In examination, practicing a consistent holistic viewpoint; is the identification of the good with the bad. However, with the ability to see it all, comes the opportunity to see the flow of one to the other, so that in the end things are neither good nor bad, but part of the same whole.

This quotation is from a book of daily meditations,  “Awakenings” Asian Wisdom for Every Day.

For me, this means accepting in totality who we are and from what stock we are made.   It means looking deeply at all aspects of our nature in order to embrace without qualification the uniqueness given well before birth.  If we can go into all the nooks and crannies of our selves, then we have the opportunity and gift to deliver to the world our truest version…with no apologies, even if we have poop in our pants or on our boots!

not yo’ mamma’s ferns:an ode to Dee Dee

Sundays are a special day.  It has always included some sort of bacon breakfast, plenty of coffee and a long read of the newspaper.  Pat and I save the Saturday Toronto Globe and Mail for a good read on Sunday.  I go through pretty much the whole paper, but the fun is in The Style section…o’k and Tabatha Southey.   My husband and I routinely discuss/banter and always laugh at Russell Smiths piece.  I enjoy Dee Dee Taylor Eustace’s column as she is a well-regarded interior designer and architect:  two professions that I would have loved to have done, if I had been told there was more to choose from than teaching and nursing…neither of which  I would be good at….O’k, maybe I would have required to study harder too.  Anyway..

I developed a migraine today when Dee Dee(we are on a first name basis, though she doesn’t know that), slammed my beloved ferns!  Crushed my deep love for plants big and small!  Threw out to the millions reading her column that, …wait….I am hyperventilating….paper bag….breath…o’k….”the houseplant as decor is a dated idea.” !!!!! It gets worse!  ” As for ferns, keep them in the garden.” GASP!  Oh mon dieu!  I will allow that Dee Dee never grew up with Dr.Joseph Aloysius Kearns as her grandfather, but if she had, she would know that plants not only beautify a home, but clean the air too.  Literally, plants breathe life into a room by taking out the carbon dioxide, and replacing it with oxygen! Just a little old fashioned advice dedicated to my Grandpa:)  Saying that ferns have no place in your home, is like saying that parsley has no place in the kitchen!..how to make gremolata? how to finish most European dishes? ..and I don’t mean with a sprig.   How to make tabbouleh?  Parsley and ferns…. provide a pop of fresh colour, improves your health and is beautiful in a humble and classical way.

I am having a flash-back to just over a year after the explosion and we had moved back into the house; I invited a well known interior decorator from Toronto to help me put the house back together.  I was struggling with scale, colour, and lacked focus…among other things, effects that the blast had on my brain.

When I had the decorator come into our home to help put this humpty back together, I certainly wasn’t anticipating yet another crack up side the head.  Cruella, (my pet name for her) came in, scanned the entry and open space before her, dropped her coat on the hall chair, then pronounced : “No Plants!  Plants are passee.  Fresh flowers yes, plants no.”  Admittedly, she was looking at my trio of “snake plants” or  ” mother-in-laws tongue”, and I later agreed.  Not because the plants were not appealing, but because even symbolically I didn’t want a sharp mother-in-laws tongue in my house;)  Bad feng shui!
She then decried : ” animal prints are out, furs are out, and PLEASE change that china cabinet!…or at the very least cover the glass. ”  Well, as you can see, I did not heed her advice, nor take kindly to her brutal criticism of my home; my fragile nest.  What I thought I needed was guidance to make our house a home again.  The underlying lesson was that no one could do that, except me and my family.  Sometimes life delivers you the lessons that only you can learn.  We needed to step up to the plate and not look for someone else to fix things.
We all know people whose homes you walk into and there seems to be no scent of the inhabitants.  Sterile or messy it doesn’t matter, they evoke the same impression:  who are the people that live here?  I wanted, craved to have our home reflect our lives….not the lives or views of someone else.  If I want to put zebra on my chairs, I will!  If I want to put a fur (yes, real) throw on my bed or chair, I will.  If I want to put china in my china cabinet…say it’s not so!….oh yes,.I will!  Each gesture pointing to philosophy and interests.  If the antlers on the wall are from the previous years hunt by my husband, then not only will that happen, but you can bet that we will be gushing with pride as we serve you beautiful, luscious venison on our wedding china!
I don’t want to join our local Mennonites in their colony, but I do want to support them and enjoy their offerings.  I don’t want to be a vegan, but I do support a thoughtful approach to eating.  I really don’t want to be a decorator, but sure want to support the good ones.  Not all decorators are condescending, controlling people.  In fact, there are fabulous, thoughtful, intuitive designers out there that can guide and challenge you to find your own vision.—then help you execute it.  Great designers are a blessing; they skillfully and sometimes dramatically help you to reflect in your home, external manifestations of your self.  This is spiritual undertaking fit for those ready to exhume and dispatch of the old and unnecessary, and then seek out and embrace your present, conscious realization.
This I wish for you.  Living in a home that reflects your family is transformative and energizing.  Just as you should surround yourself with people that bring beauty, authenticity and support to your life, so should you surround your self with ” the things”  in your life, that honour, support and uplift you.