It has been a long, dark winter. Today marks four years since the tsunami that devastated Tohoku, with its continuing legacy of nuclear refugees, radiation leaking into the sea, untold ramifications to come to us all. I pray that those who are responsible to act directly upon Fukushima have been doing so with integrity, to the best of their ability serving the greater design. It is hard to know whether they are.
It is hard to trust governments far and near. Our own, for example, shut down radiation monitoring stations across Western Canada in the wake of Fukushima. It is hard to see that as an act of integrity, as willingness to serve the authentic best interests of those with whom our leadership interacts.
If i get the opportunity to tell Mr. Harper so, i will tell him that i reckon it a disgrace to wear the title Right Honourable, and do such a thing to the people he claims elected him to serve and lead us. I may never get the chance to do that, despite the national legend we hold, that we, as free people, have free access to our political leaders, to speak and be heard. My telling this truth in this blog doesn’t seem likely to have much chance to create positive change. But there you go, it is something i can do, about something that matters to me.
Mostly, my days are filled with more localised, personal challenges. My sphere of influence is pretty small. Which is not to say that i’m lacking opportunities to speak and act with integrity, and accept that my words and actions will not always bring comfort, will sometimes provoke anger and fear, will generate tears, might resonate a long time before resolving.
In my limited sphere of action, when I need to make and stand by difficult decisions, I am thankful for my Mom.
I’m minded of Mom’s advice, to always strive to be a Tool of God, which means accepting that you are only a tool. Do your best and give it up the the Lord, and trust that you have done what was needed. Someone needed you to do what you did, and you will be shown that in the fulness of time.
She said that to me many years ago, on the evening of one of the most challenging live performances i’ve ever done. She was right. She predicted exactly what happened. To my astonishment, the fulness of time was the very next day, when two people (among several) who’d walked out of that show came to my door to apologise, and to thank me for telling the truth. It hurt to hear it, they said, but they realised they needed it. I’d watched the shock, anger, fear on audience faces – is she gonna go there? – and felt horrified myself as, in character, words came from me that felt compelled and utterly true.
Even as the editorial part of my mind, the writer who observes the performer, was banging metaphorically on her window shouting ‘shut up, shut up, you fool, you can’t say that!’ i kept right on speaking, feeling ‘in the moment’ in a way that usually feels transcendantly grand, but that night, felt like a whole body punch rolling through me. I collapsed afterward, wracked with physical pain and with the horror of impending backlash.
I am a performer. I want people to like me. And i am a coward. But my mom’s words over the phone had affected me, and i could not resist speaking the truth that rolled through me.
It was unusual, a minor miracle in my life, that people who have never met her used my mother’s exact words to me the very day after she – who only rarely does so – gave me such direct and detailed advice. When i was still in shock and bracing myself for a tide of anger, rejection, ostracisation from this community where i’d come in search of solidarity and healing, they came to my door with humility and grace, and gave me the great gift of acknowledging me, of thanking me, of sharing how my truth telling had brought them closer together in healing and love.
I consider that experience evidence that I have a responsibility to write about that truth: we all serve. It doesn’t depend on us being big, or small. It doesn’t depend, either, on us calling God by any particular name, or serving any aspect of God in particular. It seems as true for an animist as a Catholic. We can call forth love, through speaking truth. With love as our goal, we can be brave enough – even we cowardly, crowd-pleasing performer types – to be of some use as a tool in creating a more loving world.
The hard part of the act of trust that is required to be a tool of love, is patience. My mom pointed out that, in her experience, and that of the woman who taught her, we may not get to know the impact we have, until years later. We may never, in this lifetime, know. We are called to do our best, without expectation, but because it is the best we can do.
We may also not know for whom we bring our gift of truth and authentic action. I have certainly seen this for myself. Those two friends who came to my door? They were not, according to me, the target audience of my art that night. They were incidental, from my point of view. Mom warned me about that, too; sometimes, we are so focused on one person or one set of people, that we fail to realise how much we can impact people who are, in our limited perception, bystanders at best. Sometimes, our gift of authenticity is for somebody we would not even consciously choose to give gifts. People who provoke us to stand up to them, or speak out against them, can inspire us to move in accord with the Master’s hand. I saw that when my sister died.
My elder sister died young, an accomplished woman who’d still seemed to have a lot of life to live. I fear she truly didn’t know how much people loved her, and how many people loved her. At her memorial in Edmonton, hundreds gathered to sing, laugh, cry, tell stories about her. We had an ‘official’ programme, a set list of people who prepared pieces to present on stage. And we had an ‘open mic’ programme afterward, where anyone could come and share how they felt.
It was a spectacular send-off, even though I moved through it disbelieving the entire time, the entire time in shock that this was necessary, was real, she was really gone.
It was surreal, but perhaps never moreso than when a man she’d openly despised, a man she’d had little use for at all, stood up and thanked her, crying. He told us all, from his heart, how much it had meant to him that she gave enough of a damn to openly call him out when she reckoned he was not worthy of her respect, was not treating her friend respectfully.
She had told him, bluntly, boldly, some would say unkindly, that he was a negative, hurtful influence, wasting his life and those of his supposed loved ones. She was right, he said, and I want you all to know, I wish I could thank her in person for that, because I’m sober now. Clean and sober. And I will never forget how she made me stop bullshitting.
When he got up to speak, I rolled my eyes, feeling I was doing so in solidarity with my late sister’s spirit. She’d have muttered a descriptive phrase and turned away, frowning, arms crossed impatiently, tapping a stylish shoe and breathing audibly through clenched teeth at his presumptuousness, taking a place in the line of friends, family, supporters, fans.
She’d have said – and I wouldn’t have argued – that changing is more than saying the words. She’d have remained sceptical that his public chest-beating was deep and sincere.
But I believe she’d also have hugged him after he spoke, patted his back while he cried, cried a little herself. Because we all want to believe that our lives have meaning, that acting from integrity will bear good fruit, someday someway. It doesn’t matter how, or even if, we name God. We all want to feel our lives have meaning, purpose, usefulness, that we, too, are Tools of God.
Even Stephen Harper? Is this true even of a leader who would shut down monitoring of radioactivity just when his electorate faced impact of unknown and potentially deadly magnitude? It has been four years. I wonder if Mr. Harper feels he is serving God? Or has mistaken Playing God for accepting his responsibility to be a tool, in the right, honourable sense of that word?