Ambitious for 2009

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. I don’t remember ever making one — until this year. The resolution is to do some heavy reading on aboriginal law and (more generally) philosophy of law.

I’m a negotiator. My job is to negotiate self-government agreements with First Nations (aka Indian tribes) and Inuit groups. I don’t blog about work very often because the negotiations are confidential.

I’ve only been in my current position for one year. My earlier position was with a different department, Health Canada. There, I was still involved in self-government negotiations:  for example, I played a small role in the self-government component of the Labrador Inuit Association land claim negotiations. But the job at Health Canada mostly consisted of policy analysis. The face-to-face negotiations are always led by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada.

My first year at INAC has gone very well. I may soon have an opportunity to move into a senior negotiator position.

One of the quirks of my personality is that I like to study academic texts. I used to spend a lot of my spare time reading theology. I’ve lost some of my passion for that topic — since it doesn’t have much connection to my day-to-day life anymore — and I’ve never really found anything to replace it.

Until now. In my mid-forties, I’ve finally arrived at a job that seems to fit me to a “T”. And I like to know more than is strictly necessary in order to do my job.

I plan to study relevant court decisions, articles on aboriginal law, etc. But I also have some half-formed ideas percolating in my mind, and I plan to try to flesh them out. That would involve some reflection on the philosophy of law, with the goal of bringing some of the abstract theory into connection with my personal experience of negotiating actual legal texts.

Thus my New Year’s resolution is to spend less time poking about in the blogosphere and more time reading actual books.

It may reduce the number of posts I write here at [A]mazed and [Be]mused. But I’m ambitious to make the most of my new career:  not merely to skate across the surface of it, but to develop some modest expertise in my field.


R&R at a B&B

Today, Ilona and I are off to a bed and breakfast on Big Rideau Lake. (Just for one night.) We’re celebrating our first anniversary.

Romance! Whoo hoo!

The lingering goodbye

When a relationship ends, it’s not just a person that you part company with. You also leave behind the hopes and dreams that the person once kindled in you.

That’s the hardest part, I suspect. I was the one who left my marriage — a long time ago, now. But even the person who leaves suffers the loss of the hopes and dreams that once blazed in the hearth of his heart.

The leaver doesn’t get off scot free. He (or she) is first to suffer the loss. He grieves as his precious hopes and dreams fade and die:  like watching a loved one succumb to a lingering, terminal illness. He grieves, then he screws up his courage, and he leaves.

The person who is left confronts grief in an instant:  like losing a loved one in a tragic accident. I guess it’s worse that way; who’s to say?

The point is, I doubt that you still love him, all these years later. I doubt that you still grieve the loss of that relationship per se. Rather, it’s the promise that the relationship once held out to you; the loss of your own innocence that can never be reclaimed.

That’s the hurt that smacks you upside the head when you listen to Mozart, or receive Columbian roses, and you think of him.

The Grief of Women, by Tim Holmes

Quote of the day 4

Now it is clear that for screen artists, and perhaps not only for screen artists, youth is, relatively speaking, the short season; the long one is the degradation after success.

Pauline Kael, writing in 1966; generalizing from Marlon Brando’s precipitous decline in acting talent.

Saying goodbye, part 2

I should begin by explaining where I knew Tom from. I used to work at Christian Horizons, providing support for people with developmental challenges. Tom was our behavioural consultant:  he would come to the residence once or twice per month to help us devise a strategy for responding to problem behaviours.

Tom wasn’t conventionally religious. He described himself as a spiritual person, but he didn’t believe in God.

Nonetheless, allow me to use a verse from the Bible as a framework for my thoughts. As I talk about it, it will become clear why I think it’s a suitable way to express my respect for Tom.

The verse is, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God”.

Tom was a problem solver and a peacemaker. At Christian Horizons, people would sometimes get upset over everyday, routine things. Taking a bath, getting dressed, getting into the van to leave for day program — those sorts of things could be very upsetting.

It was upsetting for everybody. It was stressful for staff, but it was also stressful for the individual involved. They weren’t happy. They were frustrated or angry or otherwise miserable. So we needed to find a solution for everyone’s sake.

Tom had an arsenal of professional skills that he could bring to bear on the problem. With his help, we would carefully analyze the behaviour to identify its precise trigger and come up with a strategy to manage it better and avoid conflict.

I think I can honestly say that Tom’s intervention made a difference every time. No matter how challenging the problem was, Tom was able to effect an improvement.

It wasn’t just a matter of professional training:  it was who Tom was. People don’t go into this line of work to get rich. They go into it because it reflects their values, their temperament. And you could see that with Tom:  he was soft-spoken, patient, quick to laugh, a good listener.

He was a problem solver and a peacemaker, as in the verse I quoted above.

Let me interpret the second half of the verse for you. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God“.

Jesus is referring to a family resemblance here. It’s like a newborn baby, when people look at it and they say, “He’s got his father’s chin”:  or “She’s got her mother’s nose”. Even though the baby is only a few days old, people can already see a family resemblance.

No one has a physical resemblance to God; but we can have a spiritual resemblance to God. And that’s what Jesus is referring to here. God is a peacemaker; Tom was a peacemaker. You can see a spiritual resemblance between the two of them, a family resemblance.

But that’s not how Tom would put it, I know. Tom didn’t believe in a personal God. So let’s think about this concept in a way that Tom would be comfortable with.

Tom believed that the fundamental principles (or forces) of the universe were positive. In particular, he believed that love and peace are the core realities of the cosmos.

It takes a kind of faith to look at things that way. If we look at the universe from one perspective, we see a lot of ugliness. We see conflict, violence, misery, and death. Coincidentally, today is the anniversary of 9/11. You could be excused for thinking that ugliness and darkness is at the core of the universe.

But Tom didn’t see it that way. He looked at things from a different perspective:  a perspective that appreciates the sublime beauty of a song sung in four-part harmony, or a convivial evening spent with friends in the local pub, or a hockey game played at the local arena.

Tom was a big Beatles fan. We were reminded of that last night:  when we got together there was Beatles music playing. And what did the Beatles sing about? Everyone knows the answer to that question:  the Beatles sang about love more than they sang about anything else.

Later in his career, John Lennon turned his attention to the cause of peace — he used his celebrity to wage a campaign to promote peace.

Those were Tom’s values, too. He believed that love and peace are the fundamental principles of the universe. That’s why Tom was a problem solver and a peacemaker. He aligned himself with those positive, fundamental forces.

I began with a verse from scripture. Perhaps it would be fitting to conclude with a few lines from a Beatles song (a poem, really):

Limitless undying love
which shines around me
like a million suns,
It calls me
on and on
across the universe.


Tom died of cancer last week, at 56 years of age. I’ll be speaking at his funeral this afternoon.

The original “Saying goodbye” post, remembering my sister Kathy, is here.

Live blogging our honeymoon

Just so you know:  I’ll be absent from the blogosphere this week. MaryP and I are in Quebec City enjoying our honeymoon!

(We were married on May 21. Call it deferred gratification.)

And then it occurred to me. Using my Blackberry, I can live blog the honeymoon! Hour by hour, I can keep you updated on where we are and what we’re doing.

But for some reason that I can’t fathom, MaryP vetoed the idea. Her specific words were, “What happens in the hotel room stays in the hotel room”, followed by some dark mutterings that the honeymoon was going to mark both the beginning and the end of a brief marriage.

And she calls herself a blogger! Doesn’t she understand that live blogging is all the rage? If you can live blog boring stuff like election debates, wouldn’t a honeymoon be far more entertaining?

So I’m afraid you’re all doomed to disappointment. Exploits that might have been legendary will now be known only to my sweetie and me.

But I promise to post some photos when we get back. Our hotel room is very cool:— the wall between the bed and the shower stall is made of glass.

A terrifying realization

Her name was Joanna Williams. I was ten years old, and I didn’t like soccer. I wasn’t bad at it; I hated it. It was always raining, you were always out there when it was freezing cold — this was in England. And this whole idea that you should be miserable and form your character — I hated it.

I got the day off. I think I was sick or something. I was sitting there, and the way the English school system worked, all the girls sat inside and knitted, and I was sitting there reading.

I sort of knew I was different, but I didn’t know how or why. And Joanna turned around to me and she said, “Are you a girl under there?” Suddenly, all that feeling of difference was given a context. It was forced into this idea that I wasn’t a boy, I wasn’t a man.

There was something wrong with me. And that was when the first terror came into my life about this.

When you’re in puberty, and you realize you’re getting crushes on boys — you’re developing the way any heterosexual develops, but in the wrong way — it’s both exhilarating and terrifying.

It’s like getting into a plane, and soaring over the clouds, and you’re exhilarated to be up there. And then suddenly you realize, you’re going to the wrong place. You’re with all these people that you don’t want to be with. And you want to get off, but you can’t — you’re one of them.

The thing was, it wasn’t as if anybody had told me what a homosexual was. There was just nothing; there was silence.

It’s a rare gift to be able to articulate an intensely personal experience so that people on the outside can understand it. The above quote comes from a baby-faced Andrew Sullivan, discussing his book Virtually Normal on the Charlie Rose show, in 1995.

Questions of identity have always interested me, because I have struggled with it, too. I’m not gay, but I too have felt “different” my whole life. I’ve really only come to terms with who I am in the past ten years:  i.e., since I entered my mid-thirties. That’s a lot of years I spent sorting out my identity. (And even then, I’ve continued to struggle to define myself adequately as a Christian.)

Questions of sexuality have always interested me, probably because I struggled with that, too. I found it difficult to fully accept myself as a sexual being even though I was never in doubt about my heterosexual orientation.

As a result, I reject the meagre attempt Christians sometimes make to meet homosexuals “half way”. They say, “You don’t have to overcome your orientation — you can be a good Christian as long as you’re celibate.” And they think that’s a magnanimous, progressive, compromise position.

I reject it because I understand how central sexuality is to a person’s identity. (At least, it is for a great many of us.) To be told, You must be celibate in order to be accepted among us is to be told, You aren’t welcome to be yourself.

If you struggle to understand the perspective of homosexuals, I encourage you — I dare you — to spend fifteen or twenty minutes watching the Andrew Sullivan interview. For the first fifteen minutes, Sullivan and Rose are discussing public issues, including same sex marriage. The dialogue only turns personal at about the sixteen minute mark.

If you make time to watch the video, just maybe you will gain new insight into an alien world. Maybe, like me, you will be able to relate to the struggle that arrives in that terrifying moment Sullivan describes above:  that moment when you first realize that you’re always going to be different — Oh my God, you’re one of them.

I think the world (including the Church) would be better off if people could come to terms with homosexuality. In so doing, we would learn to accept folks who are always going to be somewhat alien to us — but who are fundamentally the same as us, too.

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