Standing atop a frozen hilltop yesterday before dawn, I beheld an apocalyptic vision… a smoking, ruinous, hulk of a city lay spread out beneath me, its jagged skyline blurred by countless plumes of thick grey steam. A thousand tiny yellow licks of flame glowed bright against the blackness – a thousand twinkling windows. Man, it was cold out.
How wide do you stretch your frame of reference? Not just in photography, although these Banff pics do make a snazzy allegory, but in how you see yourself. How close do you crop?
It’s really a matter of context. How much are you willing to let into the picture? One word on a page is black and white, but it’s funny how quickly the paper turns grey as you add to the story. It takes real courage to rip yourself out of a nice, cozy, swaddled reality. As we extend our frame of reference to include the motivations of other people, cultures, and histories, we are forced to surrender (albeit incrementally) the security of control – a hard sacrifice for those who prefer to direct their worlds, and be justified by them.
I’m not talking about abandoning yourself to some universal “flow”, but more about finding a way to exist as a secure self in an open, ever changing world. The first step is to allow yourself to be justified (validated) by an outside source – Gödel was onto something. I know I’m being biased here, but I highly recommend God. The next key is to give up a little of that control. Can you hear it? Yep, that’s the world, and it’s still turning, a miracle, I know.
Get to know yourself, without judgment or regret. Just be honest for a minute, within the context of only you. Who are you? What do you really want? Ok, so maybe a minute is cutting it a bit tight, but you get the idea. This self-knowledge can take away so much of the questioning and vulnerability of “big picture” living. Once you’re ready to open your frame of reference, you’ll be amazed at how the scale of everything changes. Sure, in the grand scheme of it all, you shrink down almost to nothing, but you’ll be amazed at how many new, big, bold possibilities can squeeze into a big life.
My walk to work takes me through one of Calgary’s swankiest neighbourhoods. Wandering through The Better Homes and Gardens Theme Park so early in the morning can be pretty demoralizing to those of us not booked on a flight to Cannes this week. I can deal with picturesque window treatments and carefully landscaped lawns. Current model BMWs cutting me off on the sidewalk? No problem. But…
A line was crossed today. There is one house on the route so magnificent, so architecturally breathtaking in all its cedar shingled glory, that even its Home Depot outdoor potters transend our reality to honour the sublime. Anyways, that house, that family, was cooking bacon at 7:10 this morning! Is it really so much to ask that there be just a little pinch of justice for those of us with empty stomachs trudging by in beat-up sneaks?
But then again, what a wonderful way to find out, at 7:10am, that yes, it is possible to have everything.
North Americans are the biggest hypocrites! We Canadians readily submit ourselves to a meteorological climate so hostile that merely revealing an ear to the world can lead to permanent injury. The picture on the left was taken this morning, on May 20th. MAY! Here I am, bundled to the hilt, in a society that would happily let me skip around in little more than a couple of spandex triangles.
How dare we judge our sisters, whose own climate, albeit cultural, dictates an identical costume. Her and I are both madly in love with our countries and our families; why shouldn’t we dress for the best chance of success and acceptance in both. What is freedom? Do I really have the freedom to run through the snow in a bikini? Can my personal choice to expose my body to frostbite ever be comparable to the cultural reprimand one of my sisters might face if she rebelled in similar fashion?
I cut under the entrance awning of the retirement home beside my office building on my way to work this morning. There was an ambulance parked in front, right outside the home’s dining lounge windows. I took a peek at the breakfast crowd as I darted by. I know the drill; an ambulance that early in the morning usually means only one thing: there will be one less tea biscuit on the tray.
There was a smattering of elderly residents in the lounge, some chatting, some alone, all nibbling on delights far more tasty than the frozen peas with cheese that were waiting for me next door (don’t ask). One woman was sitting close to the window, all by herself. She was looking past me absently, chewing on the end of a thick butter coloured biscuit. Her wrists were wire thin, and the dyed reddish curls on top of her head were politely spaced with plenty of breathing room in between each translucent twist.
I couldn’t help but wonder if it was one of her table-mates who wouldn’t be making it down for breakfast. The woman didn’t seem all that concerned about the ambulance, or even all that interested in what she was eating. What did the scene mean to her, if anything? With mortality waiting just outside the window – I kept asking myself – why wasn’t she savouring the darned tea biscuit? There is so much I don’t yet know about life, but I can tell you one thing…
My frozen peas with cheese were absolutely delicious.
“They were charming eccentrics with marvelous imaginations, and there is so little room these days for wonderful people like that.” – William Norwich, April Vogue 2009
Norwich may have been writing about East Hampton’s two reclusive Edith Beales, circa 1976, but his comment on our culture is remarkably shrewd. When did we stop valuing creativity? Imagination? When it stopped making money, that’s when. So… why did we decide to stop buying?