Life and Humanity and what we have to do with it.

I think life is a journey to find humanity. We are born with life, but that doesn’t mean we’ve got humanity. And everybody has their idea of what humanity looks like, but honestly, I don’t think we know the half of it. – Me

What’s tipped me over the edge today? What’s thrown me off kilter and spun me into a depressive oblivion? Life and Humanity. Hold on to your seats readers, this is a dark and stormy ride ahead.

We have it all wrong readers. There’s a fundamental problems with our current state of mind. We believe that life gives us some idea of how to live it. We believe consciousness gives us some ability to know. We believe that there is some essence of being a human that we just naturally possess because we stand on two feet and call ourselves human. But I have come to believe that, that is untrue. Just because we have life does not mean we have humanity. And it certainly does not mean we as humans know what humanity is. I wish it were true that we were born with a beacon of knowledge, compassion, altruism, community, and love. But we are not.

I come to realize that life is that journey to finding that humanity we believe we ought to have. The problem is, everybody seems to think they know what humanity looks like. In some places, humanity looks like this:

20100618-tedx-oil-spill-1395

BP Oil Spill - photo by @kk

In others, it looks like this:

G20 Riots in Toronto Canada

In others, it looks like this:

Iraq war games

In others, it looks like this:

G20 Summit

Yes, my choice of images is purposeful and knowingly slanted. But what it shows is that life comes with many humanities. We constantly struggle to find the right way to live, and we’ve come to a point in our history where the choices we are making in the world to feed our lives is compromising what it means to be human.

If being human is going beyond the reach of excess and greed – 5000 ft deep, to be exact, beyond the reach of humanity into the molten core of the earth where 60,000 barrels of the earth’s deep dark crud now bleeds every day – then I ask, what humanity have we chosen?

If we believe it is our government’s responsibility to fix the mistakes of large corporations, what humanity have we chosen?

To the rioters today in Toronto. I ask you this. Your anger against the establishment is understandable. I am at a loss for what we have let happen with the domination of the “Economy”, but in reflection of how you choose to act in protest, what kind of humanity have you written for yourself through violence?

I ask a similar question to the CEO’s of large corporations, when they give the green light to drill 5000 ft into the earth, what humanity they have written for themselves through their actions?

Some times, I think we try so hard to live life that we forget our journey to finding humanity – that is to finding how to be human. Just because we have the ability to rationalize, to think, to remember, to learn, to love, to befriend, to commune, to build, doesn’t mean we find it, practice it, and hone it for the better.

This is a personal reflection. 500 words can not possibly express the extent or nuances of being human. And I may not be right. In fact, I’m certain, I’m wrong on very many points. But I have a life to live and a humanity to hone. This is but one tiny exercise in finding it.

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The Three: a story from my childhood

When I was a kid, oh maybe 8 years old or so, my mom won tickets to an Arts Club show off the radio. It was probably tickets for four, but it was clear that on a week night, it would only ever be for three. The count was mom, child and child, and that was three.

I remember hopping out of the car, slick wet pavement under me, wondering what exciting theatre we would get to see at Granville Island! As a kid, the supermarket was the excitement of the week, and evening outings past 8pm was very special indeed. And this was well past 8 o’clock in the evening. This started at 9.

I strictly recall the slick pavement, wet from the hazy rain that paints our city stars and sparkles at night. When the halo glaze of the street lights tinge and glow off the black concrete. At 8 years old, night time was the forbidden space of fairies, intoxicated grown ups, and sparkley street lamps painting pavement. It did not belong to the child.

As we walked up in line, I recall the slight frown on my mother’s face. The slight parting of the lips and darting of the eyes, and craning of the neck. Her uncertainty though was never wrought more apparent than in the hard grip she held on our little hands, pulling us through the line of grownups dressed in black, fur, and hats.

Approaching the entrance, the looming shadows of the hallway began to creep around us. Holding our hands tight, my mom led us through the narrow corridors, shrinking under laughing bodies, silk rubbing elbows, knees, men hovering wine glasses above our heads. My brother’s eyes wide with knowing. Handing over the tickets, my mother’s hands white and stiff, she continued through the rows of seats, finding ours snug off centre and crowded.

I remember twisting myself around to take off my jacket, and noticed only big heads, tall and brooding. My brother and I were the only small heads in the room. I wondered. My mother did too.

As the lights dimmed, I asked my mom what we were seeing. She shrugged an unknowing shrug, fixing our coats to the chair as she did this. I knew it was comedy, so laughter was expected. The billboard said a comedy, a man’s name on the billboard with “stand up” in the title. Though honestly, looking back on it, it’s clear that my mother did not know this, nor we.

The heavy red curtain began to part. Lights descended and a man did appear. Though no tigers or circus dancers did. A sort of disappointment came over me. It was not a funny act after all. He greeted the crowd with a gesture, a chuckle, the sort of thing stand up comedians do when they’ve been on the road for months, and the liquor they just downed off stage sort of refluxes back up to the sound of a chuckle – it’s not.

Sometimes, I wish I had noticed my mother some more that night. Looked over at her face to see what she looked liked, though I know well now what she felt.

The man on the stage began his jokes. They were not funny. Not for an 8 year old, nor a 10 year old, nor a 36 year old asian woman who won four tickets from the radio to see a comedy show. The man on the stage was going through his motions, regurgitating his lines, and flinging profanity around the room like they were biscuits. Some people caught them in their mouths, giggling at it, laughing at it, choking on it. I looked awkwardly at my mother, who was slowly feeling the cloud of obscenity hovering over her.

My brother, seated next to me, found courage to giggle a little, though oddly not at the forbidden words that neither was funny, nor sarcastic, or appropriate. The man energetically delivered his punches, swiping each child, my brother and I in the eye each time. Boom, left punch! Boom, right punch! Boom, and the c*nt comes out and an upper cut to the poor children’s beautiful angelic faces. We were numb.

I don’t blame my mother, she would have never known. But she knew 30 minutes in that it was a sad mistake. But the seats were too close, and the people were too drunk, and she was too afraid to drag her two little kids out of the theatre that never should of let them in, in the first place. She sat there, mumbling a short, ” There’s so much cussing.” Arms wrapped around her children’s coats, watching the crowd, watching her kids, holding her breath, waiting for the lights to come on.

Another 15 minutes dear mom before that happens.

And yet again, as the comedy continued, a throw to the left cheek, a toss to the right, “the whore”, “f*cking and sh*tting” all over the place! “Sex, vagina monologues, balls, and butts” flung here to and there to, until my mother was sitting dizzy, ensnarled in guilt and embarrassment. She wasn’t a bad mother. No, she was a fantastic one.

When the man on the stage was done berating his wife and his penis, the heavy red drapes, now smeared with children’s shock and awe began to draw close. Wearily like a wounded doe, my mother gathered us up and pushed us out of the tiny theatre, catching her breath along the way – out, out, out.

And when we were out of that place, I looked up at my mother, to show her we were ok. She blinked, and I saw, a clear drop of regret hanging off her cheek.

My brother and I held her hands tightly as the street lights descended on us, casting us luminous as we walked.

I strictly recall the slick pavement, wet from the hazy rain that paints our city stars and sparkles at night. When the halo glaze of the street lights tinge and glow off black concrete. At 8 years old, night time was the forbidden space of fairies, intoxicated grown ups, and sparkley street lamps painting pavement. It did not belong to the child.

It did not belong to my mother, either.

Peace, a poem.

I’m looking for peace. Have you seen it?

We hear it most at a time perhaps most unfortunate – may you rest in peace, we say, as we send our loved ones off, may you rest in peace, we say.

So peace, you elusive angel of the rough, you morbid beast of our final destiny, you invisible torment of fear, what tricks do you play on the living then? What war you have made in man? What discomfort you have wrecked in my heart? Oh peace, you derange me.

Or are you peace, that quiet knight that rides through our dreams, casting fog towards light, illuminating hope within desire, and crafting weightless glory to the self? What peace, do you have in store for us? What peace, do you have in mind?

I have been looking for you peace, but you have stayed silent through many fights. I have willed you, and you have found no chair or rock to rest on. I have begged you, to offer a little calm. You have ravaged me with illusion, disappearance and qualms.

So, peace, where you have me by the throat, where peace, you have me by the heart. Where peace, you have me where you want. Now show yourself.

Where peace, you have me scathing. Where peace, you have me crying aloud. Where peace, you say you are fierce with compassion. Where peace then, do you devour me?

Peace, oh peace, I am looking for you.

But peace oh, I fear, you have won.

“Yes, you will be ok”, said the man.

Double Vision by Michelle Spiziri

Earlier this year, I was in a terrifying skiing accident that left my vision impaired for several weeks. I knew something had changed when my body hit the cold hard ice. In a split moment, a careless mistake, my world became a million fractured fragments, tilted, jarring and distracted. I remember thinking “oh shit”, as my head bounced, one, two. When I heard myself screaming, there came a hand on my back from an unknown man. I still do not know what he looked like, because I could not see his face. Some people may call them angels, so I guess the bodiless voice that hovered over me that dark cold night might have been mine. In truth, he did not save my life because I was never in any danger of losing it. What he did was perhaps far more profound.

You see, as my body threw my head against the ground, darkness snapped and whipped me blind. Fear took over, pain left me stunned – I was broken. There was nothing in that moment that could have been possibly good about the situation. I broke my eye socket. I could not see. And my head felt like exploding. But what I remember of it is not the pain, not the deafening fear that kept me shaking for three hours straight, but the unknown man’s breathless voice repeating “You will be ok, yes you’ll be ok”.

When I returned home from the hospital that night, I could not forget his voice. What I was left with though, was a world altered. My left eye was misaligned with my right. I suffered from extreme double vision. A person’s face had 4 eyes, 4 noses, 4 mouths, 2 heads, sometimes half a head, sometimes no heads. The ground became a jigsaw puzzle, stairs became a sloping disgruntled hill. The world became a reinvented painting I could no longer grasp or understand. For all intensive purposes, all I saw of the world no longer applied. I could not walk because the ground kept changing beneath me and the space in front seemed to be running away, one way then another, then around and around again. I could not catch the images because I no longer had the ability to hold them.

What I remember of the next few weeks was a strange strength that grew from coming face to face with my greatest vulnerability. When the world strips you of the very basic ability to see, you realize somehow you keep on seeing. You make do with what you have. You close your eyes when you need to, but you open them back up when you have to. When the angles of the world are turned and twisted, they reveal to you what lies behind others’ hearts and how different the light catches an every day posture or water glass.

I learned to see that at the moment the world went dark, there was a faceless kindness that reassured me. I learned that when you start to think that there is no one here to listen, you find they can recite your fears over and over and over again. I learned it is impossible to not be brave when courage is what makes each of us wake up every morning. I learned of beauty in even an eye patch made of toilet paper pasted sloppily on my face.

If there is anything that this year has taught me, it is that it will be a trying one. Shortly after recovering from my injury, I returned to work and found myself without one. The blow was as hard as the impact of bone on ice. It broke me – again.  And just as I felt the ground running away from me once more, I was caught by a gentle voice.

A faceless man came to tell me of a fact I cannot deny. He said I would be ok.

And I am.

Goodbye love, goodbye Games

In the end, we brought the games home. Vancouver’s 2010 Olympics was global in scope, but intimately our own. As a Canadian, I did not fathom the possibility that Canada could in fact, own the games. Not in medal counts, though we made history with a record 14 gold medals, but that these games would come to be our nations meeting point in the 21st century. It has taken us decades to rise to the occasion, but when given the flame to ignite it all, these Games was the flint that sparked our passions, and the journey that joined our many hearts.

Canadian crowds at Women's Gold Hockey game - 10-02-25

In 16 short days, I became emblazoned with a new sense of identity, one I gladly wore on my sleeves, bright red and cozy. Within the sea of red and white I saw in my fellow country folk, a curious sense of relief in boldly wearing Canada on our sleeves. It was therapeutic of sorts to feel unabashedly honest about ourselves and our nation. Every cheer of excitement, every gasp of disbelief, every scream of exuberance, every outburst of our anthem, however loudly, quietly, or indiscreet, was like a sudden release. The quiet internal shouts of joy were finally given amplitude and voice. It appeared we had finally arrived.

But before the games began, the prospects were marked with sorrow and loss. Nodar’s death quieted the urgency of the games. We began questioning ourselves before we even stepped foot on centre stage. And from then on, the mishaps and misgivings that followed would be magnified and morphed into monsters, as media devoured us from the inside out. When the weather Gods decided to rain on us, cry on our dreams, again our quiet hearts fought, like we always have, gentle yet determined. And as the world looked on us with critical eyes, our red hearts kept faithful, and our broad belief remained true.  The games would be ours if only we were given the chance to begin with.

And so there she was, a nation so unprepared for the onslaught of emotion to come that somewhere deep within, as Alexandre Bilodeau dashed across the finish line, she threw her guard down for the very first time. Just as the moment appeared most dire, when the world proclaimed us the “worst Olympics” in history, our athletes raced into our hearts and revived us from our reverie of “not so goods”, and “second bests”.

We always knew what we were, we just never shouted it so loudly, wore it so brightly, or braved it so boldly. And so like the sun that finally came to welcome us, Vancouver broke into her stride. For the next two weeks, Canada stopped apologizing for itself and started cheering for it instead.

And when we started cheering, we realized that everybody was listening. These games have garnered an outpouring of excitement and incited an unforeseen passion in its people. Somewhere, somehow, Bilodeau, Heil, Rochette, St-Gelais, Hughes, Wickenheiser, Montgomery, Crosby and all the other athletes who raced into our hearts, gave us a meeting place to show ourselves once more in red and white, stark crazy thrilled, and fearlessly Canadian.

Tonight, we bid farewell to the Games with the bittersweet realization that we as a nation finally brought the games home and made it truly our own. Thank you Canada. Goodbye games, you gave us hope for another day, and showed us all how truly remarkable we are in every way. Goodbye love, goodbye Games.

Reflections on Nodar Kumaritashvili

On Feb 12, just hours before the opening ceremonies was upon us, news of a terrible accident came through the wire. Moments later, the footage of Nodar Kumaritashvili, Georgian luger’s fatal crash would be seen around the world. Difficult to watch is putting it lightly.

It is not like watching a car crash, or a man perhaps falling from a bridge into the dark abyss. What haunted me about seeing Nodar’s accident, was witnessing the violent moment where life and death meets. Where the physical and the spiritual seemingly collide, and the propulsion of fate runs you over. Watching the footage with the knowledge that tragedy would ultimately befall him, is a premonition nobody should be allowed to have, nor should watch over and over and over again, as the newscasts kept replaying.

When I finally learned that the young man had died, the confirmation broke my hope for a second. Of course, nobody could have survived that crash. Nobody human anyways. It was a somber realization that the game of sport is in fact a test of the resiliance of life against death.

Like everybody else, we asked the question, “was it worth it?”. A 21 year old young man lost his life in a sport that demands that you walk the line between life and death. Was it worth it?

Although shaken by Nodar’s death and the very real possibility of danger, no athlete turned away from the opening ceremonies. No Olympian stopped and hesitated over their mission and purpose at these games. And the Georgian team came and marched in their comrades place, solemn yet brave.

At every turn, the Olympics shows us how an athlete pushes the limit of life just a little further. With every hundredth of a second or a millimeter of distance, we see life stepping just a little further into the territory of death. But they come back, and their success is what makes them Olympians. This is not to say that Nodar is not one of them because he never returned. It merely demonstrates that no success can come without fearless abandonment. That the creativity, strength, and energy of humanity is bore in this very balance.

And perhaps that is why the Olympics gives us hope. Because at every turn, athlete’s show us that we can push life further in order to achieve more, and return without fear or hesitation. It is this fundamental fact of life that has carried us through the civilization of humanity we know today, and that has kept us as a people to live, love, and pursue.

With respect and admiration – Nodar Kumaritashvili 1988 – 2010.

Witnessing the torch’s journey home

Before the Olympics even started, it already set a record. Approximately 90% of Canada’s population has been within a one-hour drive of the Olympic Flame – a first in the history of the games. Surely, a feat not to be taken lightly, as Canada is the largest country (by land mass) in the Americas with our 30 million population spanning close to 10 million km of land, stretching from the Pacific coast, to the Atlantic ocean, and all the way up to the great North Pole. Yes, Canada is truly epic in proportions.

On day 105 of its 106 day trek across my nation, the flame finally hit pavement that I call home. At 6:15pm this evening, amongst the thousands of other patient pilgrims that had come to witness the flame, the little white torch finally made its passage into UBC. As I watched the little orange flame rise from the crowd and seemingly vanish right back into it, I could feel my heart give a little nod to history. It was quick, but it was brilliant.

On my way home on the bus, I saw an elderly man carrying the now extinguished Olympic torch. He pulled up from the curb, got out, and waved the torch triumphantly in the air at us.  I cheered along with the bus load of college students. And as I turned to look back, I could not help but smile at the hundred awe struck faces waving in unison. An anthem of O’ Canada followed. I beamed. There could not be a more worthwhile moment than that.

Vancouver Hosts the World in 2 Days!

In less than 48 hours, Vancouver, my home town, will host the world in the 2010 Winter Olympics. As the hours draw near, the feeling of pride, excitement, and anticipation intensifies. In the last two months, Vancouver has seemingly transformed into a mecca of art, culture and sport. Pavilions, art installations, cultural stages, sporting venues, and gathering places have popped up everywhere in the city. And although the hum drum gray streets of Vancouver remain relatively calm amidst the fervor of “setting up” and “getting ready”, the hearts of Vancouverites and Canadians everywhere are being prepped with pride.

I have not seen my little city (yes, I consider it a little one still) glow with such awesome vibrancy. It’s like we have finally revealed our true colours for the world to see. We are not shy, lame, gray, or silent. And as we ready ourselves for the event of our city’s life time, even the sun has come to watch what curious fetes we have up our sleeves.

BC Place, Vancouver BC

Literally illuminating the skies, Vancouver’s most prominent “Hello!” to the world is our spectacular Vectorial Elevation light show. Dancing across the sky, I see the the lights as a beacon to the world, an appropriate salute for a port city built from those who have come and settled with us from all across the globe.

Vancouver 2010 Olympics - Vectorial Elevation Light Show

And behind the honeycomb stadium I have known since I was kid, a magical theatre of stories are brewing. Thousands of Vancouverites are stirring inside, practicing the dance, song, and tale that will welcome the world this Friday. (Opening Ceremonies begins Friday Feb 12th @ 6pm PST on CTV)

But as all this is conspiring, a little flame has been traveling across the country igniting the passion and imagination of Canadians everywhere. From our metropolis cities to the East, to the waterfalls, plains, countrysides, and railroads, snowcaps, ranges, glaciers, to farm lands, frozen rivers, up rockies, past lakes and towards islands, the Olympic torch has been carried one step at a time,  across 1,037 communities within my great nation.

Go Canada Go!

It is impossible not to feel a connection to an event that inspires us to celebrate our communities, heroes, and ourselves. Beyond the politics, the Olympics has transformed our understanding of what is possible for every city, community and individual. Seeing the flame pass through 12,000 hands, each one uniquely Canadian, I sense the real physical connection the torch has made for us. We are a beautiful country and the flame simply illuminates the millions of faces we call home.

I have not felt so excited about my hometown in a long while. It is about time we made it be known.

An inferno to break your heart

Last night I was awoken at 2am  to a neighbors house ablaze in flames. Ryan woke first and came running back into the bedroom frantically shouting, “holy crap the neighbors house is on fire!” I looked up at the walls of our own hallway and saw  it baked in a bright orange glow. It took me a few seconds to get myself out of bed to see what could cast such a wild red on our own house.

I was expecting a small house fire, but as I came to the window, I saw a 20 foot blazing orange inferno. The fire was so intense that I could feel the heat of the fire while standing behind closed windows two houses down. I could hear glass bursting and wood cracking. The roofing of the house melted like toffee, sliding off the sides. Pieces of debris came shooting from the house and the angry flames seemed to rise even higher in the dark sky. An electric pole mere feets away from the home was snapping and sparking as the fire licked and burned it.

I had never seen a fire so intense in my life. There was no saving it, it had already consumed the building from the inside out and the intensity of the flames screamed something malicious.

Minutes later the fire engines started to descend on the home. As they pumped water into the skeletal beast, it began to give off a gigantic mushroom cloud of gray smoke speckled with piping orange flecks. It shot into the sky and sizzled. Plumes and plumes of gray smoke rose thick and rancid in the sky. At moments, I was worried the burning flecks would land on our own house, but it seemed to know it’s victim well. It only ravaged what it came for, and it was obvious its anger was not aimed at anybody else that night.

From my vantage point, I could see into the broken windows and it looked like an oven roasting orange and red. I could see that nothing was left inside but bare wood panels.  As the fire was slowly extinguished, the gray smoke began to turn to a giant white cloud of steam and gas. Rising 50 feet into the air, the white bloom grew.

The firemen began breaking down the garage door. They pounded the door down, and it fell like crackers. At this point, I felt the mercilessness of the fire take hold. It left nothing. I began to question what started this incredible inferno. Ryan’s theory was that the people set it on fire themselves. The theory was frightening but not so unimaginable to believe.

You see, 2 years ago these neighbors decided to take on the housing boom by building their own housing complex on their rather large plot of land. This included a complete renovation of the existing home, with the addition of a brand new secondary home next door and a duplex behind. This was, I believe, a completely independent family run project slated, I would imagine, in the multi-million dollar budget range. Two years later, the houses were still incomplete and each month seemed more dire. At some points, no construction seemed to be happening at all.

So, it would seem that if these people were neck deep in debt that it was possible the owners set fire to their own home in order to get out of a sunk out investment. Self arson for the insurance money isn’t so far fetched. Though, if this were the case, it would have been terribly sad to know how desperate they were to get to the point of setting fire to their own home.

The more morbid case may be that a debt collector came to get his money back from a project now long overdue. They decided if the builders couldn’t put up the money, they’d get it through other means. I don’t believe homicide would have been in the plan, though I believe someone was living in one of the homes on the lot. And the fire was so dangerously close, who knows what could have been the intent.

Even more sad would be the alternate scenario where the house simply went up in flames by accident. In which case, I would feel terribly bad for them, as only this weekend did I finally notice that the homes looked somewhat complete. To find them the next morning in utter ruins would break my heart too.

This morning, I noticed the street was cordoned off and fire investigators were monitoring the home closely. In the day light, it’s clear that not only was the duplex completely demolished, but that the two adjacent homes built by these neighbors were also severely damaged by the blaze. It is simply depressing to see a home that we’ve watched being built these past two years end up in dust and char. We thought the homes would never be built. I guess they never really will.