What is it, exactly, about the ocean that calls to us? What is it about her waves whispering in our ears that fill us with the excitement of a child and the calm of a sage instantaneously?
Our ears wiggle to a music that seems to speak to somewhere deep inside of us. We close our eyes and listen to the singing seagulls and the chorus of crashing waves with smiles on our faces.
It’s a song that forces us to stop thinking with our rational brain. Instead, we let our bodies tell us what to feel.
Watching her waving waters as they dance to the steady beat of a lunar drum that we cannot hear, we begin to realise there is intention in nature. We feel a magical impulse, a divine will, a call to action, a collective soul.
We witness the energies of the universe as they swirl all around us. No one knows where they came from. No one knows exactly what they are. But now, in the overwhelming presence of the source of all life, we can feel them. Life’s energy.
It’s in this moment, gazing at her colossal strength and infinite beauty, that we realise that these are the same energies that ebb and flow within us. We look at life in motion and we say, “Ah, that’s who I am. I am that.”
Even if it’s just for a moment, we transcend our consciousness.
In this transcendental experience, we realise that we already live in the kingdom of heaven. We remember the promised land has nothing to do with real estate, titles, or deeds. We understand that nirvana is inside of us, exactly where we stand. We may even laugh at the all too curious realisation that we ARE the mystery which we are seeking to know.
The Gods didn’t kick us out of the Garden of Eden. We banished ourselves, and we continue to do so every time we lose sight of these simple truths. The ocean reminds us to come back into Eden and eat the tasty fruit of who we really are.
That’s why the ocean calls to us.
Or, maybe, you just like to surf and sun tan. And I mean, who doesn’t?
I’m in my late twenties. I’m not even done with school yet. I have absolutely no idea about so many things in my life. Like where I might be living in a year from now. Hell, I’m not even sure about the continent I’ll be on. I’m not sure what I’ll be doing or who I’ll be doing it with. I’m still learning about myself and how I relate to this world. In many ways, I’m still a kid.
And then I think about the fact that at my age, you already had three young kids to raise. One of them was your only son, a crazy little bastard named Michael, who had the same amount of energy and caused the same amount trouble as an entire classroom of children his age.
I’ve realized how scary that must have been for you. You were still trying to find a career, and trying to find yourself. You were still trying to figure out who you were as a man, as a husband, and how you were gonna make things work financially for you and mom. Then, all of sudden, you were trying to figure out who you were as a parent to three young babies who relied on you.
Today, I think it’s become almost common for kids to grow up blaming and criticizing their parents. I know I was one of those children and, at some point, I think all of us are. But now I realize how absolutely ridiculous that is.
Imagine if when people were learning a new sport, or musical instrument, or how to cook, we judged them in the same way as some of us judge our parents.
It doesn’t matter how many online videos someone has watched on the technique of skating, we expect them to fall many times the first time they lace up those skates and hit the frozen pond.
It doesn’t matter how many books someone reads on playing the piano, none of us would realistically expect someone to jump behind those keys and start playing Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-Sharp Minor. So why do we expect perfection, or anything close to it, from our parents?
No matter what it is that you’re doing in life, nothing will ever prepare you for the actual learning experience. You’re going to stumble along the way. Mistakes are essential to learning. We’re all just learning as we go. We’re all doing the best we can with what we have.
Every parent is at a different place in his or her life, and every parent has a different capacity for parenting.
Trying to stand in the shoes you were wearing at my age has shown me just how special you are. I know you beat yourself up sometimes about your early days as a dad, but today I want to acknowledge you for just how amazing you actually are, and how great you were for me as my father.
You supported me in every conceivable way. I never went without anything I ever needed. Even if you had a complaint or two about the price of something I asked for, I honestly don’t have a single memory of anything you didn’t give me that I truly wanted. You never let me down.
You worked some insane hours to support your family and still always made it to the important moments in my life. You were at every big game, graduation, departing flight, birthday, and religious event that I experienced. You have no idea how much that meant to me, even if I didn’t really understand it then. I definitely understand and appreciate it now.
I have absolutely no idea how you did it. You might not of been ready. You probably weren’t ready. But you pulled your boots up and you chose to be a father. Because, at the end of the day, parenthood is a choice. I think it’s time I acknowledge the choice you made to be in my life. The amount of bravery, love, and kindness that it took is beyond words.
I think relationships between parents and children would vastly improve if we all just acknowledged our parents for that simple choice they make to be our parents. They didn’t need to choose us. They didn’t have to stay, or to keep us. But they did. Even though they weren’t truly ready for it.
If we acknowledge that, in the same way it was our first experience being someone’s child, it was our parent’s first experience being someone’s mom or dad, we might start seeing things a little differently.
We made mistakes as we grew older and wiser, why would we expect anything less from our parents?
You are an amazing man. Even now, at my age, I still know you won’t let me down. We’re gonna have our fights. Sometimes we’re gonna bump our thick Italian heads. You’re still learning what it means to be a dad and I’m still learning what it means to grow up.
But I know you’rein my corner, and you know what? You’ll always be the guy I want in my corner. If I ever find myself in the 12th round taking a beating from life, you’re the voice I want to hear yelling over my shoulder to keep fighting.
You didn’t quit on me, or my sisters. You didn’t quit on your family. There’s no one else in the universe I would rather call dad, and I have a strange feeling there’s no one else out there who was supposed to be my father.
There are two painfully self-restricting words we humans have a habit of using too much. I hear them all of the time.
Anytime we use those words, there is some form of self restriction at play. We’re applying a sense of duty, of honour, of what’s expected of us, of guilt, of shame, of caution, or a lack of confidence to our decisions. We think we should study medicine because our parents have high hopes for us. We don’t think we should quit our job because we’re not sure if we can make our dreams work. We should push away loved ones because we don’t feel deserving or worthy of it. We shouldn’t take a chance because it might not work out.
Every time we use the word should, a story is being repeated to ourselves. Ones we learned from teachers, parents, mentors, friends, and celebrities. Stories of the status quo. Stories that were meant to keep you safe, but actually keep you feeling small and afraid.
Don’t get me wrong, I think everyone should have a code. Everyone should know and keep their own boundaries. But there is a difference between healthy boundaries and self imprisonment.
But the word “should” is one that is much better used to free yourself of your own prison, rather than keep yourself in chains.
You should open your heart to love, because you deserve that special someone who loves and cherishes you. You should chase than dream, because you were born to do just that. You should quit that job sucking the life out of you, because you deserve happiness in this life.
There’s always something about the first words you type onto a blank page. It’s like splashing paint onto a crisp-white canvas. I believe we all have words pent up inside of ourselves. Those first ones break the pressure. You kind of just let the words fall onto the paper as they naturally would. Your soul is the bursting cloud, allowing droplets of inner wisdom to sprinkle the land underneath it.
It seems much too rare these days that we allow our soul the ability to speak its truth. Too often we are stifled by social and cultural concerns. I think its a pretty sad notion that our individuality is being suffocated by the very people that should be celebrating it: ourselves.
We’ve seen the unique nature of each human being oppressed in many different ways by many different tyrants.
We saw it masterfully done by the Catholic church after the dark ages. We were told we were all beautiful children of God who loved us infinitely. God would love us until the end of our days, unless we looked upon the stars with our own eyes and suggested, perhaps, that our solar system wasn’t exactly structured as the church had taught us it was. That, maybe, we weren’t the centre of it all. Then we were heretics; we were blasphemous, spoiled spawns of darkness.
We were loved by God so long as we accepted our fate as peasants, farming for dukes and bishops we would never see. Don’t worry, we were told, if we allowed ourselves to be powerless and impoverished in this life, the next one would have rainbows and beds made of clouds. Our sons were loved by God as long as they didn’t love other men. Our daughters were loved by God as long as they didn’t stay connected to their feminine nature or the earth. As long as they didn’t embrace their sexual power and remained subservient to men, our daughters were wonderful indeed.
We saw it done by Hitler and the Nazis, who told us we were perfect specimens of greatness. Unless, of course, our hair and eyes were too dark or our skin produced a higher amount of pigmentation. Then we were somehow sullied; we were somehow corrupt. Capitalism told us we were successful and smart, as long as our car was new and we had the latest smart phone. We were always perfect as long as we fulfilled someone else’s definition of it.
You would think after all of the great individuals, the great men and women who stood in defiance of the oppression of the uniqueness of humanity, that we would learn to celebrate the diversity of one another and of ourselves.
We are shape shifters by nature. We are flexible and bendy. We can wear many different hats. We are water.
Our ability to bend and twist and move and flow is proof enough that none of us were made to be packed into rigid little boxes of conformity.
And yet still we act as our own corrupter. We still restrict our own freedom to be individuals. We are still barbarically behind in a deeper understanding of who we are as individuals and as a species. From the very time we are school children, we speak and act harshly toward those who stand out, instead of celebrating them.
Celebrate who you are, and support others who do the same.
Because you’re all pretty fucking awesome.
Be good to each other,
Featured Image: inesperkovic.com
Geocentric Solar System: pics-about-space.com
Witch Hunt: hiduth.com
Hitler Youth: spartacus-educational.com
Have you ever had THE moment? I think we all have, at some point in our lives. The moment we observe genius and we’re lifted into action on the wings of inspiration.
It might have been the first time we set our eyes on Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies.” For some of us, it was the first time we heard the angelic voice of Freddie Mercury singing “Somebody to Love.” It could have been the first time we read a poem by Sylvia Plath, the first Steven Spielberg film we watched, or the first time we saw Meryl Streep on the big screen.
Regardless of what the moment looked like, that was your inner artist showing itself.
I’ve had many such moments in my life, but I remember the first time with absolute clarity.
When I was growing up, hockey didn’t appeal to me much. It was very un-Canadian of me, I know. I hated getting up before sunrise in the middle of winter to skate in an arena with ice on the walls. I didn’t like how my feet would be frozen for hours after I took off my skates. I didn’t like how much it hurt when I fell on the hard ice. I decided hockey wasn’t for me.
One night my family was watching hockey on T.V. A guy named Mario Lemieux was playing, and I was instantly hypnotized by him. He was a magician. His stick as his wand, he cast spells no other human could. Every time he stepped onto the ice, he created something from nothing. He made everything look effortless.
To this day, he’s still the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a unicorn. I didn’t understand it then, but I was witnessing genius in motion.
Needless to say, my little heart was inspired. I gave hockey another chance. Suddenly, the arena didn’t seem so cold. The broken bones didn’t take so long to heal. The frozen feet thawed a little quicker.
So why does the witnessing of genius inspire us the way it does?
Art – in all of its forms – comes from a place we’ve forgotten. It comes from the higher realms of the self; it comes from the same place as our souls. We give it many names: heaven, the cosmos, the universe, Valhalla, source, Olympus, and the list goes on. From the moment we’re born, the deepest parts of ourselves call us to return to that place.
This is why a masterpiece inspires us. It gives us a glimpse of the divine; a glimpse of the divine within all of us. For it is only when we see God in another that we come to realize that God is in ourselves. We stop seeing ourselves as separate from the universe around us, and start seeing the cosmos as a part of ourselves.
That is why it lifts our hearts when we express ourselves with creation. Our soul sings when we dance and paint because, for a moment, we are opening ourselves up to the higher realms that we came from. For a moment we remember that we are Gods.
You don’t have to paint the Mona Lisa, or write Romeo and Juliet to find that place. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. The most intimate parts of ourselves don’t care for acclamation or praise. Our souls only long for us to remember who we are; to remember the divine perfection in all of us.
A soul – personified as the artist – is in each of us.
It is why Michelangelo spent over four years painting the Sistine Chapel.
It is why Mario Lemieux spent tens of thousands of hours on frozen ponds.
It is the reason that I write.
Art is the language of our soul and the artist is the one who speaks it. So take some time to create something, big or small. Paint a self portrait, build a tree house, or write a ballad. Take a dance or yoga class. Write a song, or learn an instrument. Find a way to express the soul trapped inside of you. Remind yourself of that feeling you get when you open yourself up to the heavens.
Remind yourself of your own divinity.
Because you are as infinite and as sacred as the stars we look upon.
It has an astounding ability to filter the way we see the world. By shaping our values and norms, it can directly affect our appreciation for the little miracles in life.
Take pizza for example.
Our social conditioning has rendered the ordering of a pizza into something routine and relatively unimpressive. It’s something that is generally accepted aslogistically simple. It’s become a completely unappreciated achievement of humanity.
But if someone was to do exactly the same thing – that is, get on their phone and press a few buttons – but expect a baby, it would be absolutely absurd.
Think about what goes into the making of a pizza.
If the pizza has pepperoni on it, an animal has to give birth to another animal, which must survive childhood and reach adulthood, that animal must then be murdered, processed, shipped, and cooked before finally appearing as part of your pizza.
If it has olives on it, an olive tree had to be planted somewhere, probably the Mediterranean, had to mature enough over several years to bear fruit (is that what olives are?), be shipped across an ocean, and find its way to meet the pepperoni in a perfect union of infinitesimal coincidence in order to appear as another part of your pizza.
But you also love a bit of mozzarella. No problem. A cow must be born and raised. That cow has to first be forcefully impregnated and must carry her calf full term. In the meantime, she will be permanently chained to a milking device before having her calf taken from her at birth. This process will repeat itself until that cow can no longer get pregnant or produce milk.
The milk is then separated into curds and whey using acid and rennet. The curd sets, is drained and salted. Mozzarella is stretched and kneaded in hot water to give it that special texture a pizza lover has come to expect. It’s packaged and sent to meet it’s fate in that fiery oven with its new brothers the pepperoni and the olives.
This doesn’t take into account how the dough came to be, labour employed in the creation and cooking of the pizza and it’s elements, the delivery man, the electronic exchange of energy in monetary form, or the mind power you put into essentially manifesting a pizza by pressing buttons on a little magic box that fits in your hand.
To put things into perspective, the cheese on your pizza and the pepperoni on your pizza is made up of stardust from two completely different stars. Those stars had to both be born, act as nuclear fusion plants for billions of years, burn out in a beautiful blazing supernova, and have their tiny particles spread across the universe.
They joined the trillions of such like particles that formed earth, before those particles partook in a million year cycle of being born, dying, and being reborn again, before it finally ended up as part of your pizza – at the same time as the other stardust from a different star.
A baby by comparison only takes 2 humans and 9 months to make, compared to the many humans and collective decades the clockwork of pieces your pizza represents – pieces of pizza, no pun intended.
Yet the idea of ordering a baby would appear absurd, when logistically and energetically it’s much less absurd than the ordering a pizza.
This doesn’t even take into consideration the evolution of food, cooking processes, transportation efficiency, technological advancements, harvesting capabilities, and overarching factors of globalisation that were required to develop in order for the ordering of pizza to become common place.
The art of making a baby hasn’t changed since the dawn of time.
It shouldn’t have to be said, but I do not value the making of a pizza above that of a newborn child. We value a baby because it represents life in it’s most beautiful and fragile form. A new soul has come to this planet to experience it’s journey.
In meditation, there’s a few different reasons as to why the mantra is used.
Some sects of Buddhism or Hinduism believe that muttering certain words manifests change. The words plant a little seed in the plan of the universe which is then nurtured by our positive deeds, good intentions, and dedication to our practice.
Other sects believe that the mantra is a set of arbitrary words used to numb the mind.
This is because when we take any word, and say it over and over and over and over again, it loses all meaning.
When the word eventually fades into the realm of meaninglessness, we are essentially muttering nothing at all. We have short circuited our way to an empty mind. A quiet mind.
A mind content in its meaninglessness.
An integral element of turning a word or a mantra meaningless is that there must not and can not be anything behind the words. We have to say the words without putting any feeling behind it.
We may have originally known the intention of our mantra, and we may have started our chants with intense purpose and sincerity, but somewhere along the way we must lose that intent and meaning in order for words, and their meaning, to fade into oblivion.
This is exactly what happens in life when we go through the motions.
We get up every day and follow the same routine. Go to the same job, to perform the same functions, with the same faces surrounding us, who are also performing their own monotonous functions.
Too many of us call this life. Too many of us call this living.
Like the mantras that lose all meaning, along the way we’ve lost what’s behind our words and our actions.
We’re performing the action of living, without actually possessing the intent to live.
We’re just saying the words over and over and over again. Our actions are for the sake of action.
And in this way our lives become meaningless.
We confuse the action itself as being the crucial element of life, when in reality it is the intention behind our actions that matters the most.
Life isn’t about the vacation or the trip, it’s about why we’re going, what we’re getting from it, or what we’re running from.
It isn’t about the code we live by, it’s about why we’ve chosen that path. It’s about discovering the fears and the pressures that have convinced us to live life a certain way, and it’s about choosing – for your own reasons – to find a different code to follow.
It’s not about the corner office job, but why we get up and work there every day.
Once you lose the intention behind the action, it becomes meaningless.
One should therefore not rely on mere words, but everywhere search for the intention behind them.” Buddhist Scriptures.
And that goes for anything in life.
You can be a brilliant poet, painter, athlete, lover, worker, or mother, but if the intention behind it isn’t pure or has been forgotten, then your actions cease to have meaning.
Your actions become a mantra.
Your boss, your partner, your children, and your team mates will all begin to feel the insincerity behind those meaningless actions.
Life is never about the choices we make.
It’s about why we make those choices. It’s about those tiny moments of integrity, when we know we’ve made an unpopular choice but have stayed true to ourselves.
It’s about being fearless in the face of external pressures or socially constructed fears.
Life is the fire, intention is the oxygen that gives it strength and beauty.
So breathe some fresh air into your life.
Take some time to reflect on why you’re doing everything in your life. Look at everything you do today as a choice, and question the intention behind that choice.
That is where your power comes from.
You have the choice and the power to live life how you want to live it.
Don’t let any person or misplaced fear take that away from you.
When I was growing up, I always took great delight in the autumn season. I’m not sure if it was because my birthday was coming up, hockey season was around the corner, or simply because of the beauty of the Canadian wilderness in fall.
The ordinarily green landscapes would be stroked orange, red, and yellow by the paint brushes of the gods. Fields full of grass became oceans of amber. Bronze sunsets would tint the city gold and set the sky ablaze.
And yet, everything around me was dying.
It’s curious to think that I don’t know of a single person who has wept for fallen leaves, or wilting flowers, or dying grass. We innately understand this is the way of things. We know that spring will come, and the cycle of life (and death) will renew itself.
Why then, do we fear death? Why do we see our own death as the end of the straight line we’ve travelled since birth? Why is it so uniformly regarded as something negative?
Whether we’re afraid of what comes next, or dying painfully, or just the thought of our lives ending, it’s the ultimate boogeyman in the human experience.
Even the Romans, as battle hardened and fearless as they were, refrained from uttering the word “death.” By doing this, they gave power to the very word.
Death is certainly a part of life, and is certainly inevitable. It comes for us all. Does this give it power over us?
Of course not. We do not fear sunsets and sunrises, we do not fear the passage of time, we do not fear breathing. Yet these things are all inevitable. Inevitability doesn’t give something strength, but fear does.
The fear of death is death’s only weapon against us. Like the monster under our bed, it grows in ferocity and size as long as it remains the great unknown. In tackling the fears that surround death, we free ourselves from its grasp.
Why, exactly, do we fear death?
(1) We fear death because we don’t know when it may come.
We fear the idea of dying young.
I think of Jimi Hendrix, Alexander the Great, Amy Winehouse, Frédéric Chopin, John Keats, Tupac, and Tutankhamun. They all died at extremely young ages. Yet I would be willing to bet they lived lives more rich and full of experience than many of us rotting away in a cubicle.
On the grand scale of time and space, the difference between living 30 years and 80 isn’t even a blip on the map. Whether we die old or young we’re only here for an infinitesimal period of time, a period of time we cannot control.
We only have the power to make those years count.
(2) We fear death because we don’t know what comes next.
If I’m being perfectly honest, I usually have no idea what day of the week it is without ample reminders. Every day is a surprise. I’m at peace with the fact I generally have no idea what’s coming next.
We didn’t know what came next when we escaped the womb and came into this world kicking and screaming. We didn’t know what came next when we shipped off to university.
Sure, there was a little nervous energy, but we were generally excited about that great unknown. It was all new and beautiful.
Life can change in an instant, and that’s exactly what death is – life changing in an instant.
Whether death is the start of a new life or the end of an old cycle, change is never something to be feared.
It is only our concern with what may come in the future, or what happened in the past, that binds us to the wheel of life and death. By remembering that the present moment is the only moment, we free ourselves from that ever spinning wheel.
(3) We fear death might hurt.
I think I can speak for all of us by saying life usually hurts. Breaking bones was a price of playing the sport I loved, for example, and I broke pretty much everything above my waist – twice.
We’re riddled with coughs and colds and aches and pains and pimples and gas. We battle the seasons; we’re freezing in the winters and choking on smog in the summers. The suffering of life is unavoidable.
It seems a bit absurd to worry about the suffering of death, when our suffering is constant and unrelenting in the life we’re living. As far as we know, death is a release from our daily human suffering. Death is the absence of pain.
I’ve seen many people and animals suffer in life – but have never seen one struggle in death.
I often wonder if a rose would be as beautiful if it were perpetually in bloom, or if we would cherish the springs if there was no winter. Life isn’t beautiful because it is long, or painless, or safe.
Life is beautiful for the simple fact that we are mortal. Death is what makes life a special gift. Every moment can be our last. For this reason, everything we touch, smell, hear, taste, and see is magical.
Death is our constant reminder to appreciate this life that we’ve been given.
Appreciate the people around us, the things that we have, and the healthy bodies we’ve been given.
The rain was splattering heavily against the bus window. I couldn’t hear it over the pod cast I was listening to, but the visuals were just as calming.
The bus was unusually crowded for the time of day, and I happened to be one of the few people without a person wedged into the seat beside me.
But alas, my personal freedom was not meant to be.
An elderly gentlemen stepped onto the bus, closed his umbrella, and shook it dry. He dusted off the sleeves and fixed the cuffs of his brown suit that he could have stolen from the set of Mad Men.
He spotted the seat next to me and made his leisurely advance toward it.
As he walked toward me, a million suggestions about him flooded my head before he got to my seat. Out of touch. Senile. Grumpy. Bitter. Lonely.
In short, I believed from the moment I saw him that he had nothing in common with me.
I tried to smile at him when our eyes met, but the scowl on his face appeared to be a permanent fixture. Cranky old man, I thought to myself.
He wiggled in his seat as though he was jostling for position. I tried to show him with my body language that I couldn’t move over any more than I already was. We weren’t off to the best start.
I tried to keep my gaze outside of the window, but the man kept fidgeting. I tried to ignore him, but I couldn’t.
I eventually checked to see what he was doing. He was pulling out a book. I was surprised to see it was Paris 1919 by Margaret MacMillan (…..Canadian!).
The nerd in me couldn’t help but remove my headphones and tell the man that was my favourite book from all of my undergraduate history studies. As I began a one-way conversation about some of my favourite points, he looked at me almost bewildered.
I instantly recognized that look of surprise, and that’s when it hit me.
He had judged me in the same way I had judged him.
I thought of how I must have looked to him when he first saw me. I was in gym gear, with long hair, a beard, drinking a shake, and with my headphones on.
I look at myself sometimes and think I look more like I belong at the battle of Thermopylae than I do in a law classroom. It was comical to imagine how he saw me.
To him, I was probably just a young punk who knew it all. I was probably listening to hip-hop or whatever “kids these days” find appealing. I was probably off to “do my exercises” so that I could better “chase all the girls.” I probably even smoked those “marijuana cigarettes.”
And who could blame him? With how I looked, it might have been a stretch for him to guess that I was actually listening to a podcast on the third Punic War, heading for a quick workout so I wouldn’t go stir crazy studying for law exams.
We talked about the book and our favourite personalities of the first world war. Our talks on the first world war quickly became talks about the second. We talked about our relatives who lived through it.
He found out I was a Canadian, and told me about his travels to Ottawa and Toronto. We talked about my travels in Australia.
It also turned out he was a professor of History. We compared our favourite Roman generals. We talked of famous victories and disastrous defeats. It may be nerd speak to some, but we were connecting through a mutual passion.
When he got on the bus, I had immediately assumed that this was a man I had nothing in common with. It’s safe to conclude he had assumed the same. Yet here we were, finding common ground at every turn. He reminded me of my grandfathers, and the passion they instilled in me for life.
I almost missed my stop because we were in such deep conversation. I found I was legitimately upset to part with my new friend. We said our goodbyes and I left with a deeper faith in our connectedness as humans.
I say, sir, that you can never make an intelligent judgement without evidence.” – Malcom X, The Playboy Interview.
We say it all the time – not to judge a book by its cover – but this experience took it a step further for me. I don’t think its at all possible to judge a book by its cover.
We really have no idea who a person is until we dive into their world.
We can only judge the mask they show to us. We can judge the trends they support, but we can’t judge them.
We have no idea if it’s Beethoven or Drake playing through those headphones. And, even if we did know, what does that really tell us about a person?
The more obsessed we’ve become over our own appearances, the more judgemental we become of the appearances of others.
The only way of truly knowing anyone or anything, is to get to know them.
Imagine a world the same as ours, except the moment someone felt the need to judge someone they instead took a moment to connect with a fellow human being.
Every year during this month, on the eleventh day, at the eleventh hour, we remember.
But what, exactly, are we remembering?
Not one veteran of the first world war is still living. Of the over sixty-five million central and allied soldiers who fired a shot in that war, there is not one of them who still draws breath. Think about that.
There is not a single person alive who experienced the horror of the battlefield first hand. Of the hundreds of millions of bullets and shells exchanged in the first world war, there is no longer anyone who actually remembers pulling a trigger.
For our part, we remember statistics, dates, key players, and usually a story or two regarding a distant relative who fought in the war.
Our countries remember glorious victories and heroic deeds. We remember who “won” and “lost”. We remember the names of leaders and generals who led the troops. We remember the rhetoric about our freedom. Men gave up their lives so that we could live free ones.
But are we missing something? Is there something else we should remember?
Too often do we forget it was not statistics fighting the war. It was not the generals and leaders who were up to their stomach in mud, blood and human waste.These were fellow humans, living through terrifying nightmares that our lives of comfort cannot allow us to comprehend.
These were people like you and I, thrown into the 20th century version of a meat grinder. This was the future generation of an entire world being gambled like poker chips.
In forcing ourselves to face the human element of war, we force ourselves to remember what we have.
Roughly 18 million people died in the first world war alone. To put that into perspective, take the two biggest cities in North America (Mexico City and New York) and then imagine every single person in both cities being wiped off of the face of the earth. Our minds simply cannot conceive how much life was lost during those four years.
Entire neighbourhoods of men signed up together, and were slaughtered together. Think of a group of your closest friends, people you grew up with and love like family. Brothers from another mother; sisters from another mister. You may think of team-mates, neighbourhood besties, dance-mates, the list goes on. I think of a group of brothers I grew up with in the cold rinks of Canada.
Now picture the group of you, walking miles in a wasteland. Think Mordor, the aftermath of Hiroshima and Dresden, or the Moon. You shiver as the cold spring rain beats down on your group. Bullets whiz past your heads, and shells are exploding all around you.
On the first day, half of your group is killed by a single shell. Their body parts litter your trench but you’re uncertain what leg belongs with what torso, so you don’t bother with the pieces of them.
Your closest friend of the group goes insane within days of your arrival because of the constant pounding of artillery and screaming of machine gun fire. That friend is accused of cowardice by your superiors for his refusal to control himself, and is executed for it. You know he wasn’t a coward, his mind had just been incapable of accepting the horrors all around him.
The rest of you are sent over the top of the trench which, like the last fourteen attempts, ends in complete failure. You fall into a hole carved into the earth by an explosion and hide there, hoping the enemy doesn’t jump into the cavity and gut you with his shiny new Nahkampfmesser made of the finest German steel.
At dusk, you hear one of your last remaining friends screaming in pain and crying for help. He’s bleeding out in no-man’s land. Just as you build up the courage to try to save him, you see another friend you had no idea was still alive dart across the barren waste in your injured friend’s direction. He is immediately cut to pieces from machine gun fire. You lose your nerve.
Darkness falls. You rush out into the field while the artillery fireworks light up the night sky. You find the friend who had been crying. He’s dead. His own fist is shoved down his throat. You realise that he had seen one friend die because of his screams, and didn’t want to see another, so he gagged himself with his own hand. You remove the letter he wrote to his fiancée back home, who is pregnant with a baby girl, and you run back to the trenches.
Everyone you arrived with is now dead. It hasn’t been a week.
By the end of the war, this will happen to thousands of people. Some will witness people grasping at their throats, eyes bulging, as they fight for the air that chlorine gas is suffocating out of them.
Some will look into the tear filled eyes of barely eighteen year old boys gasping their final breaths. Some will see men wrapped up in barbed wire and covered in bullet holes. Most will smell the stench of millions of rotting corpses. Many will starve or freeze to death. This is the human element.
And yet, for the most part, these people dug in their heels and kept fighting. The romance of war had long been shattered by the horrific scenes they were forced to endure, and yet these men trudged on. They weren’t stupid, but they felt they had no choice. They were terrified. They believed they would die.
And yet they showed a resilience that is the truest testament to the strength of the human spirit. Let us remember that these were the people that, after witnessing humanity completely shatter itself, had to pull up their boots after the fighting was done and put the pieces of civilisation back together again.
But I can’t help but ask, how would we have handled it? We in the west have lived in relative peace for a long time. We have no great war to fight, no existential threat to truly fear.
In peace, sons bury their fathers. In war, fathers bury their sons.”Herodotus, The Histories.
We think poor WiFi signal is a problem, or that it’s preposterous when we don’t get a strong cell phone signal in our apartment. We think the weekly grind is a struggle, and our weekend spin class is torture. We think we’re hungry when it’s 6 pm and we haven’t yet had our third meal. Many of us can hardly handle the loss of a dog or a cat, how would we react to witnessing millions of humans being slaughtered in front of us?
So what, exactly, are we supposed to remember?
We remember all that they lost – in the most tragic and sickening of ways – so that we may appreciate all that we have. We remember the darkness they were forced to endure, so that we may embrace the light. We remember the senseless hatred and violence so that we may promote love and laughter.
Let us remember the horror our fellow humans endured, so that we may never again do it to each other.
In putting ourselves, as best as we can, into the shoes of those who walked in the trenches, we’ll realise that we actually have a lot to be thankful for.
And to the soldiers who walked through hell, we thank you and we remember.