We, as royal we

Last year was mostly good, with some less good to provide balance and context. This year will be different, or perhaps more of the same, it is the last full year of my thirties, today is exactly 17 months, 29 days from my 40th birthday, 5 months 29 days from my 39th birthday, relative to today. What about yours?

But what are birthdays really, but days in the orbit of the earth which is to be an anniversary of the same relative time and position of the earth in the orbit around the sun, our sun, which is orbiting our galaxy at a ridiculous speed relative to the galaxy, which is moving at a ridiculous speed relative to an arbitrary place in the universe towards the galaxy which we call Andromeda which is moving towards our galaxy at another ridiculous speed, destined to meet with our galaxy in a relatively short period of 5 billion years. All of that is only a moment for the star, we are gifted and cursed with the opportunity to watch this dance in slow motion.

One day the dust of our dust will return to a star dust as we were at least once before and we will be pure energy in every form again, before returning to matter again, but that day is not today, we are matter now, and we matter now, if only to us, and our planetary family. We’re in this together… you and I.

We are never in the same place that we once were, and we never will be, so lets move on and embrace the place we are, lets embrace what we are, on this arbitrary planet in a position around a random star at a position in a very aribtrary place, on a small planet at the outside of an average galaxy floating in the open space of the universe.

We are fixed in space for a moment, it is time to embrace that moment.

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The Fear (Stories About Male Privilege)

I want to paint a picture. It’s very simple but a specific picture.

First, I am 188 cm (6’2″) tall, I weigh 102kg (230 lbs), plus or minus. I am not a small guy. I have not been in a fight since the first year of high school, which was over 25 years ago and I do not naturally have an aggressive personality. In summary, I know that I do not present an easy target. I don’t draw extra attention to this fact, and it may be why it has been so long since I’ve had a physical confrontation.

The following scenarios take place at on an empty side street in a residential neighbourhood. It is 9:30pm on a Friday night in the fall and is dark out, street lights provide some limited visibility. I am walking home.

I’m walking alongside a road, alone, and in the distance I can see a person walking towards me. Because it’s me, I mentally check myself and say it’s nothing to worry about. I keep on walking.

As the person gets closer to me, I recognize that this is a man of a medium build, and they’re not looking at me.

My initial thoughts: first, does this person think I am a threat? If so, should I present myself as a non threat by slowing my pace, moving farther to one side?

The next thought: is this person a threat to me? Is he walking with a stride that would indicate awareness of his surroundings, is he paying attention to changing conditions, is he confident where he is at that moment, and does he appear nervous?

I generally like confident people. Nervous people tend to be unpredictable, and they make me nervous in turn. Whenever I hear a story about someone charging into a public place to attack or cause damage, I imagine them to be nervous or angry.

But when we pass each other, I listen to make sure they haven’t stopped, and quickly go back to what I was thinking about.

Now let’s flip the script…

I’m walking alongside a road, alone. In the distance I can see a person walking towards me. I mentally check myself and say it’s nothing to worry about. I keep on walking.

As the person approaches, I recognize this person as a woman, of shorter build. She walks quickly and does not look up at me as far as I can tell. But I am not watching that closely.

My first thought: look straight ahead, so as not to appear threatening, and maintain my pace and direction. If she drifts into my path, I will move to avoid, and if we accidentally make contact, I’ll apologize and continue walking.

There are a number of thoughts going through my mind. Was I a threat to her? Did I intrude into her space? Did I act appropriately? Subsequent thoughts could be: she looks attractive, or I missed an opportunity for a polite exchange. A simple “Good evening”. At no point do I ever believe her to be a threat to me. My only concern is she feels threatened, and unfortunately has every right to feel so.

I’d like to change it up again now…

Again I’m walking alongside a road, alone. In the distance I can see a small group walking towards me. I mentally check myself and say it’s nothing to worry about. I keep on walking.

As the group approaches, I recognize them as a group of women, likely dressed for a party, all talking loudly, walking erratically. Preoccupied with each other, I notice that they don’t look up at me at all.

I feel entirely at ease as they walk by. I can’t imagine they would feel threatened by me, just a lone man walking by the road. I can hear a few words of conversation as they walk past. I stay on my path to my destination, and the interaction is over.

I’d like to change to one last scenario,

Again I’m walking alongside a road, alone. In the distance I can see a small group walking towards me. I mentally check myself and say it’s nothing to worry about. I keep on walking.

As the group approaches, I recognize them as a group of younger men, likely dressed for a party, all talking loudly, walking erratically. Preoccupied with each other, I notice that they don’t look up at me, and they keep walking.

But I am nervous. The chances that they want to mess with one person walking down the road are minimal, but the chances are not zero and I am acutely aware of that… the men sound like they have already been drinking and they’re rough housing on the sidewalk. I make an effort and go out of my way to avoid them. They leave me alone and I continue to walk alone to my destination, and the interaction does not feel over until I can’t hear them in the distance any more.

Of the four secnarios, I imagine personal fear for myself in two of them. The fear may be unfounded, unnecessary, but I feel it. The third fear is from the women’s perspective, and I am acutely aware that women face a very real threat every day. No argument there.

Now, I have a few final thoughts for you.

I feel like an increasing number of men in our society are becoming a nuisance.  For men who abuse and force their power on others, the law, when successfully enforced, dictates prosecution and jailtime. Has this approach been effective or sufficient? I would say it has not and the underlying reasons have not been addressed.

Is it a measure for condemnation of our society when a man walking alone is a threat and must be treated with the same caution as a wild animal, like a bear or a moose?

Or is it a testament to our growth as a society where we now recognize that boys and men exist in a world where the very threat they feel during their daily existence creates a situation where they in turn become threatening to society at large?

How does our expectation of male behaviour shape how we raise boys to become productive members of society?

What do we want our society to look like?

The New Normal and the Words I Say…

This post is adapted from a toastmasters speech I delivered in 2013, this was my “Ice Breaker” speech for anyone who has been a part of toastmasters:

….This is not a play on words.

This is a reality that I get to live with every day. Over the next 5 minutes, I will touch on illness, fear of the unknown, and recovery.

Nothing is more frightening than asking questions about yourself that you don’t know the answers to.

I am going to start my story in June 2003. It’s not the beginning, but it is important. I am sitting in a waiting room to be admitted to the emergency room, I’m 24 years old, and had just endured a very painful walk from my house to the check-in at the Royal Jubilee hospital in Victoria.

A month previous, I had been dropped to the floor with painful, painful muscle spasms. They had increased in frequency and baffled every doctor that I had seen over the last month. They would guess – allergies, vitamin imbalances, even anxiety. In the end they could do nothing for me and sent me home… and told me to come back if anything changed or got worse…

So now I’m in a hospital. I had taken a number and was sitting in the chair, waiting….racked by the occasional seismic event that my body was putting me through.

The on-call nurse called my number, and I slowly walked up to the counter. Just as I was sitting down, I was hit with another violent muscle spasm.

Imagine a sneeze, starting in your left arm. Then traveling down to your fingertips, then in an instant the other direction, all the way down to your foot. And every muscle it touches pulls so hard; you could imagine each one was trying to lift a car.

A nurse was immediately beside me and I was loaded into a wheelchair to be rushed into the ER. She thought she was watching me have a heart attack. I think she told me later that she was afraid that I was going to die in front of her.

Eventually I was strapped to a gurney, plugged into a bunch of machines, and blood was pulled. They quickly found out that I wan’t having a heart attack and that I wasn’t in any mortal danger.

After what felt like five hours, they closed the curtains on me, and slowly the muscle spasms started to subside. With a note on my file, I was discharged and sent home. They couldn’t find out what was causing the spasms, only that they seemed to have calmed. And they couldn’t help me.

I felt like there was no point in going on, I felt defeated, and that got to be a cycle that I kept rolling through my mind. Imagine the frightening feeling, of knowing. There is nothing they can do for you. You’re on your own.

It took another four months, and three more doctors of increasing specialty to eventually come to the conclusion that what I have is a condition called MS or Multiple Sclerosis which at the time I knew nothing about, except that the doctor told me it was not curable, and would progress with increasing disability until…

I don’t need to detail the list of words that started flowing through my head then, but they weren’t pretty.

The various questions rolled through my head…Do I deserve this?…Is it going to get worse?… when is it going to get worse???..What now?…

The list goes on… I can say that I was almost as afraid of the possible answers…as I was about not knowing them… my mind instantly put me into the worst place it could go, and was able to push forward.

———-

Fast forward to 2010, in Penticton.

It was a cloudy day in August on a Sunday morning. I’m standing on a beach with two thousand seven hundred people who have all trained to stand with me. I’m in a wetsuit, and it is almost 7 AM.

I’m about to start Ironman Canada, which is a gruelling two hundred and forty kilometre race (140.2 Miles for those who prefer Miles). It is a pilgrimage of sorts for all types of people.

I felt unsure and confident at the same time.

The cannon fired, and with a mass of hands, and legs, and feet we all charged into the water for the four kilometre swim. Everyone was trying to pull me under in their quest to get out of the water again, just a little faster.

From the water, I emerged, not fast, but not tired, and started with the bike. One hundred eighty kilometres, riding past four lakes, over three mountains, through a hail storm, in the rain, and a nasty headwind all to get back to the start… Again, slower, more tired, but moving forward.

On to the run. Forty two kilometres starting in a light rain. Changing into a warm sun, I ran. My sun screen had washed off on the ride, but I was not noticing that. I ran… for two and a quarter hours I ran, and was half way through. On the way back I gained speed, as I saw my friends running past and people cheering along the course.

I heard news that one of my training partners was just ahead, so I pushed on. With 10 kilometres left I caught up to my friend, and executed a clumsy attempt at a high five. I kept on running, with five kilometres left in the race. I was working harder than I had worked all day.

In my mind, I was a Kenyan marathon champion, but I was also dreaming about pizza at the finish line.

The finish line came soon enough, and it was all over for the day. My finish time was twelve hours and thirty three minutes and fifty eight seconds.

The seconds count…and the pizza…not so good, but it did not matter. It had done its job.

I made it, I believed I would make it, and I had every reason to believe I would make it.

The Ironman has been referred to as a lot of work; to get to a place only 100 feet from where you started.

It has been thirteen years now since my diagnosis. MS kept me afraid; afraid of disability, afraid of failing….afraid of the unknown…and I still don’t know.

But I have learned one thing, if anything… The words I say make the difference, they make the only difference between getting out of bed in the morning, and getting out the door.

I am going to fail, over and over, and I’ll do it better every time I do. I have to be nice to myself, and forgive my failures, so that I feel strong enough to get up and do it again.

The Questions don’t matter as much as the answers you give yourself.

I Called this talk the New Normal, and the Words I say, but what I really mean, is I am here now, in this place. I can be happy about it, or miserable about it.

Either way I am here… Come and get me.

13 races from September to August. Ironman Finish Line area
13 races from September 2009 to August 2010.
Ironman Finish Line area

For some additional context to this story and my 2010 Year I joined a fundraiser called Race4MS which was started by Jasper Blake who is an inspiring Ironman Athlete. In the 12 months prior to Ironman Canada I completed 12 races starting with the Montreal Marathon in September 2009, raising funds towards the MS Society of Canada and raising awareness about Multiple Sclerosis which is a neurodegenerative condition effecting approximately 100,000 Canadians and an estimated 2.5 million people worldwide.

I share my story because I had no story like this to look at when I was diagnosed almost 12 years ago… a lot has changed in that time, but there is still no cure…yet Links: