June 2012


I come from a family of three children. Pam and I had three children. Our oldest son and his wife have three children. Three generations of threes; is there something in that? I remember reading an article during the space race as NASA transitioned from the Gemini program, that was all about earth orbit and space docking, to the Apollo program, that actually put a man on the moon. They did a number of studies that seemed to indicate that three was the perfect number to put in a small enclosed environment like a space capsule. Something about having enough room psychologically to deal with interpersonal stress as there was always another person to make an alliance with if you were having problems with one colleague. Guess this argument breaks down somewhat at the marriage partner level, doesn’t it!

Anyway three seemed to work well for our children and it works well for Jon and Nic’s as well. No person’s life goes perfectly smoothly and if you are having a poopy spell and you are an only child that it can be tough to handle. But if you feel like opting out of whatever is going on and there are three of you, well the other two can carry on playing together while you get your issues sorted and feel like participating again. Not that our grandkids were being particularly poopy, but everyone gets out of sorts when things don’t work out exactly the way you had thought they would.

Eli and Abi had a lovely little visit in the wagon on the way to school at the end of the day to pick up Ben. The sun was pleasantly warm, they had sufficient toys along on the ride to promote interaction and they were able to create their own little space as they moved effortlessly down the sidewalk. However, Ben had an armload of projects to take home at the end of the school year and there was only room for Eli on the return trip. Abi was miffed. But Eli was happy and Ben had a lot of explaining to do about his construction work on his Styrofoam and sandpaper collage so Abi simply had to get over herself, which she of course did. All that is all to the good for how she will later have to deal with setbacks in her adult world.

The other factor is that Grandma was happy to substitute a piggyback ride for the wagon and that delighted Abi no end. This is not only another good life lesson but an illustration of the importance of the extended family in the lives of our children. Mom and Dad are obviously fundamental, and the argument that single parents or same gendered parents can be as effective is simply seeking to rationalize what is essentially dysfunctional. But of only slightly less importance is the connection to grandparents and neighbours, cousins and uncles that not only enrich our children’s lives, but provide other sources of love and acceptance, life-lessons and role-modeling. I had one grandparent growing up, and although she was a dear, it was a poor substitute for the full complement of family that our circumstances disallowed. Our grandchildren have four loving and doting grandparents, and although they don’t see Pam and me often, we let them know when we can just how important they are to us. It can’t help but make a difference to their view of the larger world.

I woke up early, around 4ish, and checked the email and Facebook. Got up a quick post on our arrival just to let folks know where we were and then took a long, leisurely, hot shower. Pam woke around 6 and we were packed, loaded and checked out by 7, sitting down to a passable breakfast in the airport motel where we had spent the night. After a quick refresher on the street route into town I drove down Airport Road to Dixon and down Scarlett Road to St. Clair. I must admit Toronto looked pretty nice at that hour. Traffic was light and the parks and trees green, spacious and inviting. We stopped at a Starbucks on College for a latte and quick read of the morning paper.

The news that interested us most was the Mafia hit on a petty gangster at a restaurant where my niece works. Fortunately she was not on shift when it happened, although she had friends who were. The police had the suspect in custody already, but Toronto had been rocked by a number of gang-related murders in recent weeks, including a shootout at the Eaton Center and this wasn’t good for the city’s image. We drove past the place on the way to Jane’s and it looked like your typical nice Italian restaurant with sidewalk seating and a friendly ambiance. Stuff like that can’t be good for business.

My ex-sister-in-law Jane lives in a tiny, narrow house tucked away just off College and Bathurst and both she and her oldest Sarah were up and happy to see us. Jane works for the city in art installations and her house is rich in her eclectic, colourful collection of pieces either bought from or given by her artist friends. Shortly we were joined by her steady companion Joe who lives not far away in an even tinier house, real estate being what it is in Toronto. We went to a local café for coffees and a natter and I ended up in a most interesting conversation with Joe about environmental concerns, a subject on which he was well qualified to speak.

Joe had to go and visit his 98 year old mother while we moseyed on down the street to the place where Sarah’s sister Tessa works where we had a brunch of Belgian waffles, strawberries, bananas, maple syrup and whipped cream for the ladies and a superb omelet for me. The food was excellent and Tessa was delighted to serve us and introduce her boss to us. The place was busy getting ready for the Italy/England Euro Cup game later that afternoon and expecting a big crowd.

I left the ladies to make their own way home and headed out across town to visit my brother. Wyn lives in a highrise overlooking the Don Valley with a nice view of the ravine and the city skyline in the distance. We sat and chatted on the balcony for a bit, getting caught up on family news, then we watched a boring and ineffective English team march in a desultory way towards their own, inevitable defeat at the hands of an only slightly more effective Italian team. Neither side stand a chance against the German juggernaut they will have to face next, but it was for me, at least, a very pleasant way to spend the afternoon with my brother.

I returned to my car only to find that I had violated some parking offense during my stay and had a ticket to show for my transgressions. I chuckled at the notion of stuffing it in the glove box for my son to find and pay for after I had left the country and did a brief mental calculation of how much I had paid in driving lessons, car repairs and insurance payments for him while he was growing up. Surely one parking ticket was at least some recompense, but I dismissed the thought as unworthy of my role as father. Besides, he is loaning me his Audi, and that is payment enough. She’s a great ride.

I picked Pam up at Jane’s and we had a speedy and relatively effortless drive back to London. The Audi performed admirably both in the city where it was agile and responsive and on the highway where it was comfortable and reliable. The stickshift was a real treat after the clunky automatic that I am forced to use in Malaysia, and the gear ratios were what you would expect on a German performance vehicle. I must confess I quite enjoyed shutting down some overripe, tarted-up truck trying to muscle his way past me on Bloor Street. I don’t do that kind of thing with Pam in the car, but it is hard to get my father’s racing background out of my bloodstream, and this Audi has got some moves. I think I like it!

 

I live in Malaysia 11 1/2 months of the year. I get 17 days in Canada. And as much as I love Malaysia and its people, especially the staff and students at CPU-Taylors where I work,  there is no place on earth like Canada.

There is no other country so vast, so unspoiled, so rich in natural beauty that at every turn it can take your breath away. There is no other country so noble that it would turf a sitting prime minister and reduce his 160+ seats in Parliament to just two in the following  election on the suspicion of corruption! No other country that has never fought a war of aggression and yet has stood with its allies and friends in every just conflict. No other country that has withstood an unprovoked war on its own soil by the United States, and having driven them back across the border and re-established its sovereignity over its own land promptly re-established diplomatic and friendly relations with the States.

Canada was the first modern nation to outlaw slavery in 1798 as the first act of the first legislature ever convened in this country in Niagara-on-the-Lake, thirty years before William Wilberforce in England and 60 years before Abraham Lincoln in the States proposed similar legislation. Canada was the first to propose a peace-keeping force of the United Nations and has participatesd in each one of its initiatives since conception, often at the tragic loss of Canadian lives.

Canada has a free press and a free people. We do not carry guns and we do not advocate violence. We open our border to immigrants and students from around the world and do our best to understand their customs and their ways. We are a loving, just and generous people, and in a world of war, deprivation and corruption where people are persecuted for their race, their faith, their gender and their political opinions, this country is a testimony to the potential for decency in an often degraded world.

Canada is also the home of my friends, children and grandchildren, all of whom I hope to see shortly. I have missed you all dearly,  and although by God’s good design and purpose I must live far away from you at present, you are never far from my thoughts. See you all soon!

So grateful to have had some very leisurely time this past weekend to visit with friends and family. Not thoroughly enjoying the challenges of driving a vehicle with a standard transmission, I made a decision to take the train to Toronto to visit with my friend Sonya. We met up at Union Station and spent the day just wandering downtown.

The weather was fabulous so we took the ferry across to Center Island, sat on the beach, enjoyed the view and snacked on chilly cheese fries and just got caught up on all the news. By the time I boarded the train at seven, for the ride I was plenty ready to just relax and read.

On Sunday, after church and a few quick visits with friends, Sunday I headed north to Whalen’s Corners where I had the joy of sharing a Father’s Day dinner with my Uncle Stewart and Aunt Lil. As always, Sandra prepared a lovely spread with fabulous steaks, compliments of Larry’s well developed skills on the BBQ. I can’t remember when I last had a steak but this one  sure tasted great.

Both Stewart and Lil have been struggling with health issues this past year but they are looking great and still fully enjoying life with their children, grandkids and even four great grandkids.I am so pleased to have had this time with them while I am home.

Prom Night is always a bit of a nightmare for the organizing committee; which is probably why after all these years I still refuse to organize one. Kudos to those who did organize this year’s Prom at the Empire Hotel in Subang Jaya, because it was very nice one with a good DJ, good food and lots of very pretty ladies and handsome gentlemen who were not averse to having their picture taken with an old codger like me. You can tell from my silly grin that I was not averse to having my picture taken either; in fact I was having a good time.

The highlight for me this year was doing some music with some of the kids I had the pleasure of spending the year with. Tan Swee Chuan, the colleague pictured here on my left, had been part of the CPU Jazz Band for a number of years. I have been coming out somewhat infrequently, but two of my English students, Chris Tan and Khabibah Munir are very musical and along with Chris’ friend Ben we prepared a couple of songs that suited Bibah’s range and bluesy voice.

Bibah sang ‘Cry Me a River’ to the great delight of the crowd as Justin Timberlake had done a recent cover and a number of kids knew it. No one had even heard of The Girl From Ipanema, and I guess that bossa nova flavor is pretty much a novelty here. Nonetheless Bibah did a great job and both Chris and Ben got in some solo licks while Swee Chuan kept up a solid beat. I contented myself with rhythm and stayed pretty much in the background as I like to feature kids rather than teachers at events like this.

I will miss this group of kids. They have been fun and most kind towards me and they have worked hard to ensure their own success. Grad is coming up in just one week and then they will all be going their separate ways. I wish them all the best!

The annual WLA Women’s Retreat this past weekend was a wonderful tribute to the commitment and planning of the amazing Leadership Team and to Shelley’s diligent and Spirit-led study of the Word.  The theme was “Unleashed” and through the teaching, prayer guide and the worshipful music, we were led to consider that we are unleashed from the sin that binds us through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus and how that impacts the way we live our lives.

According to tradition, Saturday morning was spent alone in quiet contemplation while Jan’s study guide walked us through reflections on the fact that we are unleashed to look up, unleashed to be real, unleashed to  praise, unleashed to wait, and unleashed to be lifted up. In the reminder of the teaching sessions we saw how we are unleashed to soar above, unleashed to be tethered to Jesus and unleashed to worship the living God.

After a campfire on Saturday evening, Asian style paper sky lanterns were launched (with the approval of the local Fire Marshall) to the delight of everyone present.  The company was wonderful; the surroundings beautiful, meals appeared and were cleaned up without us having to lift a finger.  With the exception of a bit of rain on Saturday morning and a high fever as a result of some questionable packaged meat I ate the day before I left, it was a nearly perfect weekend.

I, and the other 75 or so other women who attended, are so thankful to Deb, Shelley, Jan, Barb and Catherine who so faithfully put this together each year and pray that they are as blessed by the weekend as we all were.

I am thoroughly engaged in marking for the end of term at the moment, but I thought I would take a little time out to post a blog about my students. These examples come from the exams I am marking. One of the questions on the exam asks students to select a character from the novels, dramas and media works we have studied that they can best relate to. Four of my students write:

 “I can relate the most to Ofelia in Pan’s Labyrinth because I think I have the same personality disorder as her. I had a harsh childhood during which my parents divorced. I was lonely because nobody wanted to be my friend when I was small. Like Ofelia I ran away from reality by creating a fantasy world as a game. I considered the game to be my real life and I would seldom to go out to play. This turned me into a person that found it hard to believe others. However, I am also like Ofelia in her morals and ethics; I will not sacrifice another for my happiness, just as Ofelia chooses not to sacrifice her brother for her happiness.”

“I can relate to the main character in Life of Pi. I am not from a poor family, but like Pi I had to leave my country for another because of economic and political problems. Although I should have had the right to live with my family in my own country, I had to leave because of the problems that the people had and they could not come with me. In this country I stayed alone in my room for two months; I didn’t speak to anyone. Like Pi I had to face the fear of being alone and face all the religious and cultural differences.”

“I can personally relate to the situation of Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot. I lost my entire family in a car accident; only my brother and I survived. We were in a foreign country and could do nothing without our relatives. Our friends tried to help, but we felt lonely and lost with no answers, as nothing could replace the love of our family. In Vladimir and Estragon’s situation they tried to take their own lives, but my brother and I stayed strong until family members came to help us.”

“Ofelia in Pan’s Labyrinth is the character that I related to the most. In this story Ofelia is a small girl who has lost her father due to the war. I am a daughter who lost my dear father during my childhood. He met a horrible accident and passed away. As we know Ofelia creates an elaborate fantasy world to cope with her loss in the hope of reuniting with her father in the Underworld. I used to have the same condition as Ofelia. In the days after my father passed away I always dreamt about him and wished to live together with him in the other world. I even tried suicide but fortunately I failed to do so. My mother was heartbroken when she realized I wanted to give up on myself. Her tears woke me up and taught me a lesson. From that day I began to let go of my father’s death and started a new life in high school.”

There are other stories, as you can well imagine, but these serve to make to my point. And my point is simply this: it is a hurting world out there. Students aren’t immune from tragedy, and when it happens they are often ill-equipped to deal with it. It grieves my heart to see the way that some adults, including teachers at times, treat the young people in their care. And they are young people: they aren’t children or students, and they certainly aren’t ‘clients’ or ‘customers,’ which is sometimes how the impersonal ‘business’ of education treats them these days. They are people, and often they are carrying huge burdens of pain and loss and personal difficulty.

The very least that we as teachers can do is to treat these young people with dignity and respect. The ultimate goal is to treat them with the same love and concern with which you would treat your own children; to care for them, to love them. This is what I try to do:  I seek to pray for my students every day, and to pray for myself that I would be the kind of loving and supportive adult that these young people need to guide them on their journey through their formative years.  To fail at this most important task is to fail as a teacher, no matter what else you manage to teach them, and perhaps even to fail at the most fundamental level: to fail to be a caring human being.

Next Page »