2011-06-09

Akaka Sataa - Grace-Filled

Every death over the years feels like a piece of life ripped away. A hole left in the very air we breathe. When it concerns an elder, we often add the phrase "end of an era" to emphasize our sense of loss.

But this time, with the passing of Akaka Sataa, the watershed is real, the demark historic, and the significance worth pausing over.

Others will testify better than I can to the sheer competence that would have led to pride and impatience in most other men. But Akaka's humility was utter. Gentleness radiated from him. His strength was profound, bespeaking a phenomenal courage acquired and tested in solitude.

What made him an archetype, however, a rare example of human potential, was the sheer intensity and purity of his attention.

In later years, as his body bent and the daily trek into the public square left him almost unable to straighten, his impact on anyone who greeted him remained electrifying.

I have met very few people during my own nearly seven decades of life who, when their gaze turned towards another human being, it almost bowled them over with its sheer openess. English doesn't have as good a word for this as French does: "disponibilité". The closest we can come to it is 'availability', but that doesn't convey the active intensity. Somehow, 'available' leaves us still aware of the distractions that have temporarily been set aside.

With Akaka, you were everything. The universe paused and focused on your next breath to the exclusion of all else. A moment of pure awakedness.

Those who could make the transition quickly enough had an opportunity to tumble into a sample of eternal peace. Those whose own attention was too preoccupied to surrender to the moment could mutter a perfunctory greeting and move on without giving offence. Yet the experience lingered. Perhaps for a few seconds, perhaps to return days or months later. A realization of an opportunity squandered.

With Akaka's death, what has passed from the experience of life in Iqaluit might indeed be epocal. An era in which interpersonal grace could seem routine, if we chose to indulge.

2011-06-08

FIFA - Eurocentric Racists

After years of promoting policies and sanctions against racist slurs by both fans and players, the international federation of the world's soccer authorites, FIFA, has just banned Iran from the 2011 Women's World Cup.

The Iranian players wear head scarves. FIFA claims to be concerned for their safety, fearing they might choke, or be choked during agressive play.

I won't pretend to be expert on sport safety, but I don't get this one. I've played enough soccer to say this smells like a crock of the proverbial bovine dung to me.

Now don't get me wrong. I remain firmly opposed to full face coverings in most public circumstances. Nothing to do with religion, or freedom of expression, or women's rights. I am simply expert in matters of identity and authentication as they apply in this urban century. I understand the levels of authorization required during important social and financial transactions.

You want to cross a border, drive a car, cash a cheque, or fill a prescription? Then show us your face so we can authenticate your passport, driver's licence, bank card, or Health Care photo.

If you want onto the flight deck of a Boeing 747, or into a Level 4 Epidemiology Lab, we will settle for nothing less than your right eyeball and your index finger.

Period.

But this has nothing to do with the Iranian women's soccer team.

Soeur Marie-Hélène de l'Assomption - ssa, wore a veil every blessed day of her life and it didn't interfere one iota with her teaching me to conjugate the pluperfect subjunctive of the verb 'accommodate', nor did it prevent me or my Grade 6 classmates from donning balaclavas to play hockey outdoors at 24 below zero.

Soeur M'Laine as she was affectionately known behind her back playing on Edith Piaff's 'Milord', could also drive a fastball deep into left field, then unceremoniously hawl her skirts up to knee level and race around the bases to notch up doubles and even the occasional triple. Only dispensing with sliding prevented many more of the latter.

When I recall her typical 1950s 'penguin' getup billowing out behind her tall racing frame, veil streaming at dead horizontal behind her, I can't help but juxtapose that image with the phalanx of testosterone deficit post-menopausal male faces gathered around Sepp Blatter in Zurich to pontificate on safety for the Iranian women's World Cup soccer team.

What a crock!

2011-06-06

Fed up with 'America'.

. They have become a straightjacket on humanity. Not their geography. Not the people. Just the words: 'America' and 'American'.

They are all the more restrictive coming from such a frequently thought-provoking journalist as Fareed Zakaria. I realize he has chosen to work within their borders, but last night he used them as often as the word 'innovation', in a program about, well ... Innovation!

'America' has lost the lead on Innovation to Asia. 'America' has lost the lead in Education to India. 'America' has lost the lead in manufacturing to China. The 'American' dollar will cease to be the world's settlement currency. 'America' is fostering anti-Americanism with its war on terror. 'America' perpetuates organized crime by criminalizing soft drugs. 'America' isn't preparing for global warming. 'America' doesn't get Hugo Chavez's jokes.

I hadn't realized how nauseous this mindset made me feel until I heard George W. Bush stand at ground zero mere hours after 9-11, amidst the legacy of three thousand human beings from all over the globe, and speak to the planet about an attack on 'America'.

What a travesty. What a lost opportunity for humanity to look at ourselves as a community, for a change. Ten years later, the so-called Arabian Spring has come along to awaken us all to those overdue sentiments.

Against all odds, I'm glad to say I saw it coming. Highly unusual for Nahonky. (A North American of undiluted Caucasoid genealogical ancestry.)

Two years ago I discovered Al Jazeera English. I devoured its new look and feel, its bold invitation to view news and information from a global perspective. The relief from relentlessly Eurocentric, northern and western hegemania (sic) was overwhelming. I actually cried sometimes watching Witness, Listening Post, People & Power and Empire. Such an oasis in the media desert we otherwise face in North America.

No more Lou Dobbs! A break in the Blitzer-krieg. A refuge from the shrill staccato of embedded propaganda and pharma-petro-dollar advertising.

By contrast, Al Jazeera deliberately highlighted their low-key tone and matter-of-fact delivery with devastating content and unprecedented honesty. Outright daring. Their deeper intent became obvious when, amidst exclusive broadcasts of the earliest Bin Laden tapes, Al Jazeera's most senior editor was threatened with death for broadcasting the simple question, "How can we possibly aspire to democracy when we aren't even allowed to argue with our own fathers?"

The stage was set. Those who had ears, heard.

That ground breaking thrust in the global public narrative came from the Arabic-speaking crescent of our planet. After more than a century of Euro-centric obsession with national boundaries, ethnic loyalties and inter-ethnic conflict, an arabic-speaking and predominantly Muslim cluster of societies defied all sovereign hierarchies and reached out universally, horizontally, to neighbouring contemporaries who shared this ground swell of aspiration.

I beg of you, Al Jazeera, do not surrender the tone, nor the accent, on which your remarkable trust is based. Do not succumb to the temptation to CNN-ize your presentation during the North American segment of the global broadcast day.

We in North America need to know, viscerally, that we are hearing of the world through Doha, Kuala Lumpur and Lima. Not through London, and not through Laurel. (Maryland)

It is simply too soon for the overly affable 'American' likes of Tony Harris.

2011-06-02

Swim or Sink - Part 2

When I began this story, (please see Swim or Sink), I described a certain aspect of my personal history which culminated on February 3, 2011 in real time. On that date, my sixty-sixth birthday as fate would have it, I was 5' 8 1/2 " tall, weighed 245lbs, and hadn't voluntarily left my chair or couch for thirty years. Disgusting.

Yet, after watching a video clip of Shinji Takeuchi slicing through time, space and twenty five meters of water with what can only be described as pure grace, I dreamed of resurrecting that element of my inner past in which long hidden photographs suggest I might once have been an athlete.

So on February 12, 2011, I left home in Iqaluit on a pilgrimmage to the shrine of Total Immersion swimming in New Paltz, N.Y..

Founder and Head Coach Terry Laughlin was just heading home from Japan that day, so I was greeted by Betsy and the Beast, respectively Terry's daughter and the indescribable Shane Eversfield.

Never in your life have you ever seen such a ludicrous juxtaposition of visual icons as my 5'8" 245 lbs slab of rent-a-carcass standing beside Shane's meticulously tuned 6'6" world class triathlon frame. I wish I had filmed it for posterity, but it is still much too soon and embarrassing to post 'before' and 'after' photos. Maybe in another six months.

Over four days, two hours per day, Shane introduced me to the barest rudiments of Total Immersion swimming. Good thing I have a gift for understanding theory, because I was teat useless at execution all that week. Shane's endless patience only left me feeling even more embarrassed. I kept wishing he'd yell at me, mercilessly tease me and shame me into some sort of overt howl of repentence.

But no. Not Shane. Instead I had to suffer the even greater shame of a four day litany of the sweetest 1960's California (Hawai'i) freak-rap ego strokes, replete with groovies and neats and renaissant cools... until, as the week mercifully drew to a close, I was treated to the ultimate blessing of, "... now THAT came dangerously close to swimming!"

As I drove off for Montreal and airplane rides that would eventually take me back to my arctic home in Nunavut, I knew something profound had changed. In later conversations with Shane and Terry, I got a little carried away with analogies to the 4th Century Desert Fathers, St. John of the Cross and Teresa of Avilla, but the truth remained that Terry has gifted the world with a kinetic counterpoint to contemplation that is ideally suited to North America, the boomer generation, and the next third of human life. Sixty to ninety. 6290

This realization seemed so fundamental that I decided to demote all my other priorities for a full year to recover my physical health and, literally, save my life. All my other priorities can darn well fall by the wayside if need be, until I am firmly established in a new routine of easy perpetual motion that might culminate in moments of infused contemplation.

Such has been my focus since I arrived back in Nunavut and entered our tiny Iqaluit municipal swimming pool for my first session at 11:30 AM on March 14th.

I will leave you with only one additional tiding until the next installment in this story.

I awoke this morning, with no pain, no hunger pangs and no penitential compunctions. After barely three months, I weigh 220 lbs rather than 245 and can reasonably expect to reach 210 by Labour Day, 200 by Christmas, and 180 by this time next year.

( continued here ...)