Is everyone just looking out for himself?

This morning I got a BIG chuckle from reading a blog post called, “The Hypocrite” (https://garydenness.wordpress.com/2020/11/30/the-hypocrite/ ) published by the ever-pragmatic, Gary Denness, author of the THE MEXILE.

This Brit writes with the typical sardonic humour his countrymen are famous for. As well, he has spent enough time in Mexico to have been influenced by the existential resignation that is common amongst a large segment of this country’s literary set.

The resulting wordsmith’s mishmash is just my cup of tea.

“The Hypocrite” recounts an example of reluctant heroism in Gary’s youth and goes on to reveal his erstwhile inner thoughts as a passenger on a number of dicey flights. Finally he illustrates a few opportunities for hypocrisy that will likely present themselves, as vaccines to thwart COVID 19 become available.

I found the postscripts added by a group of seasoned commenters to be equally witty.

I actually began writing this post when I attempted to add a comment to “The Hypocrite”. I now feel forced to write from the perspective of a (getting-closer-every-day) old grey mare who (beyond reasonable doubt) ain’t what she used to be. However, the word count was soaring past acceptable levels and I decided it would be better to give my 2 cents worth on my own blog.

I must also confess to having a self-preservation strategy when choosing my seat on a plane. Since the objective is to be well positioned for a safe bail-out, I try to sit one row ahead of the exit row. I know I could not join “the trampers of the frail” in an effort to reach safety, but I figure I could struggle up onto my own seat and tumble over the back rest… I’d just plop down on top of all those scrambling over the three people sitting in the designated helpers’ row. I could grip onto  one of their collars or waistbands and allow their efforts to also carry me to relative safety.

The author’s next analysis discusses the behaviour we’re likely to see once a limited number of vaccine doses is available. Will we try to jump the line?

I will say without any qualms… I am simply thrilled that the vaccine is now “close but yet so far”… I am sure the situation will no doubt improve, but even what we have now is much better than when it was still a “hope and a prayer…” and tons improved from the bleak summer months when we were told “we might need to wait a couple of years”.

I bet that even some of the anti-vaccination sorts are planning how they can get in line without being identified and losing face. I have heard that in Mexico we will all get the vaccination free, thanks in part to a group of extremely-wealthy individuals who have offered to underwrite what the government cannot pay for.

For most of us, this year has been challenging beyond words… and many are stressed to the point where financial ruin is a real and present danger. I would venture to say that the welcome help is not offered solely because it is the right thing to do, but also because the economic fallout is already so huge… the benefactors are pragmatic and realise if the population does not get back to work soon, there will be even fewer consumers who can afford to buy the goods produced by the uber-lords.

The upshot of all this? I believe most of us try to do the right thing, but when push comes to shove (and walking quickly turns to trampling) our base instinct for self-preservation kicks in. A little humour and a lot of patience is the best course… so let’s try and keep our sh*t together until we’re all safely on the other side of the pandemic… (Amen)

Does this remind you of anyone you know?

For some reason, some time ago… you started to consider a move to Mexico. But you have no idea why. You can’t find the words to explain it to yourself, let alone to other people. For a long while you don’t even try. It’s your fantasy world.

But after getting used to the idea, you start taking baby steps into your dream world. You watch Home Hunters International episodes until you’ve memorised the dialogue. You hit on Mexico real estate websites until the listings’ lingo seems familiar… fixer-upper in trendy area… move-in-today condition… recently renovated colonial… close-to-the-beach… right in Centro… You read about others’ experiences living in Mexico by following a blog or two. Next you join a Facebook group, and then another, and another. You buy a couple of books and watch movies about “Mexican life”. It feels so intriguing, exciting, invigorating …

But it gets scary when you read reports about narco violence, police corruption, real estate rip-offs, political wrong-doing, poor customer service, poor internet connections, endless bureaucracy, serious tummy trouble, and more.

But in all fairness, you contrast this information with the smiling images you see posted online. You start making allowances for the negative stuff that happens south of the border, and remind yourself that unsavory characters lurk in the shadows of your home town too. As for political wrongdoing… those who live in glass houses…

Nonetheless, you have never lived in a place where you don’t understand the language, the laws, the day-to-day customs. If anything terrifying actually happened, you doubt your coping skills would be up to the task. But your fascination doesn’t go away. There is so much beauty in Mexico. The country is seducing you… and sometimes you cry because you want to be there. You can’t dismiss your obsession, so you take the next BIG step… you share your hopes and dreams with few close family members and friends. Before long you’ve also mentioned this to the barista at your local café, the waiter at the Mexican restaurant you’ve started going to, people sitting next to you in line at the doctor’s office…

Maybe one of them will be able to help you sort through your conflicting feelings?

Reactions are mixed. Really mixed… But generally speaking, the younger bunch tend to see moving to Mexico as an adventure, and they tell you to be sure to rent or buy a house with a pool, because they’ll visit you. The people about your age and older, caution you. They warn that this would be a foolhardy move. “You read the papers and watch News TV. You’ll be setting yourself up for major danger, not to mention financial setbacks when you have to come back.”

Whose advice do you follow?

Bottom line: You so-o-o-o need a new “kick at the can”. You are positive that you don’t want to spend the rest of your life as a boring old dude or dudette. You want to wake up to warmer weather every morning. You want to see rich colourful scenery, not beige landscapes. You want music around you and to hear children’s voices. You want to spice up your food. And your life.

So you go for it. You register at the Mexican consulate. You sell your house, disperse the belongings you can stand parting with, you give up your car, and arrange to ship or carry whatever you feel must accompany you.

This is your journey of the heart, a leap of faith, a step into the unknown, this is really happening…  YOU ARE MOVING TO MEXICO.

You feel your fate is sealed. There’s no turning back. Yea Gods… what have you done?

You settle down and wait out the final days. You don’t share your worries with anyone. You glibly talk about all that is to come as though you’ve got a handle on it. Absolutely.

D-Day arrives (Departure Day, not the other D-Day… although you could draw some parallels, couldn’t you?)  You board the plane, or pull your jam-packed vehicle into the south-bound lanes of the freeway… and you’re off.

What happens next? You take a deep breath… You know that’s up to you.

Remembrance Day

Each year on November 11th, nothing can keep us from our memories.

Growing up in North Vancouver during the 50s and 60s, we children were taught to respect and honour heroes. Of all the admirable ones around us, none were considered more courageous than the WWI and WWII veterans. My dad, John, and his brother, Lewis – my mom’s 3 brothers, Douglas, John and Bill – and Auntie Chris (who was also Uncle Lewis’ war bride) – all saw active service in Europe for six long years.

For most of WWII, Mom was still a student at Queen Margaret’s School. She and her family, who lived in Canada – an ocean away from the fighting – practised rationing so that the troops could receive more food. She rolled bandages, knit socks and wrote letters to cheer up her brothers as well as lonely recruits.  

My dad returned from six years of brutal fighting with “shell shock”, a condition we now call post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) He was only 19 years old when he shipped out and not quite 25 when he returned to Canada. Afterwards, he said that he would dissuade anyone from going to war. He didn’t believe it was the answer to disagreements between nations. Attending the Veterans’ Day parade wasn’t an activity our family took part in.

Dad belonged to a division of the Royal Canadian Engineering Corp that took part in the Liberation of Amsterdam, his father’s birth place. He knew that one of his cousins, an artist named Gisele, lived in the city and he wanted to meet her. He did in fact do so – in the living room of her small flat – surrounded by the Jewish friends she’d hidden during the entire Nazi occupation. He and the army buddy who went with him to his cousin’s home could hardly believe how terribly underweight and weak they all were. “No one weighed more than 80 pounds,” Dad said. The two Canadian soldiers returned to their base and “liberated” food and other supplies from the Division’s larder. Aunt Gisele later told me that those provisions saved her group from starvation.

After their brief time together in Amsterdam, the cousins never met again. But they exchanged letters for many years.

Sometimes Dad would compare the nightly news stories about Vietnam with his experience during WWII. My city, Vancouver, had become home to an unknown number of “draft dodgers”. Dad always encouraged me to be kind to any homesick guys I met. “I know they are missing their families more than anything and you should bring them home for supper whenever you think it will help,” he said. He too met a large number of these confused young men at his work place. At the time he was personnel manager for Seaspan International at the Vancouver Shipyards. He couldn’t give those boys a job without proper paperwork, but they always got lunch or dinner with dad, and he would allow them to use his office line or our home phone to call their parents.

My dad died young. After the funeral Mom gave me some of the letters he exchanged with Gisele, and I carried on correspondence with her. Finally we met in 2003. Her curiosity and generosity, her art and the friendship she and Dad shared, deeply impressed me. So much so, that I wrote a book about Gisele and her bond with my father, the man she called, my tall Canadian Liberator.

I smiled the first time I heard Gisele describe my dad that way – he was 5 foot 6 – but height is not the only feature that can cause a man to be called, “tall”. Conversations with Gisele – and my own loving memories – helped me to understand that he indeed fit all of them. The sacrifice asked of him was a “tall order”. He could tell a “tall tale”. He always “rode tall in the saddle”. And when it came to character, my father “stood tall”.

Today I honour John Robert van der Gracht. I feel grateful for his brave service, but I also hope we will learn to resolve our differences with compassion and tolerance, instead of guns.