Thursday, March 10, 2011

Stronger through Adversity?

So let's see,
Pater had the boat taken in for its annual motor check-up and conditioning and found that the (saltwater) corrosion noted last year had accelerated and it was time to replace. So we've done that, but let me tell you that 50hp. 4-strokes are not cheap. Not. Added for clarification: Ours is a commuter boat, for getting back and forth from our island home to town where we work and shop and connect with the rest of the world.

Then we took the taxes to the accountant, pleased that we were organized enough to get them done before leaving, since they have to be filed just as we're getting back home. Turns out that in the switch from regular paycheques to pension, $5000 too little had been withheld from Pater's cheques. So we need to come up with that $5000 before we return. Meanwhile, we'll be spending, not saving!

My union began strike action today, after months and months and months of hoping the employer might at least come to the bargaining table eventually. Because my Research Leave had begun before the work stoppage, I will continue to be paid my 70%. Although this obviously helps keep the bank account afloat, it doesn't ease my guilt or my worry for my colleagues. Not to mention my concern about an increasingly adversarial and demoralizing workplace.  However, all reports are that the first day's picketing was marked by impressive solidarity, including many students who came to show their support for what faculty are doing. Note that we are not striking for more wages, nor are we absolutely insistent that there be no layoffs at all. But we do want to have an important Financial Exigency Clause, standard at most universities, which sets out the conditions under which cuts be made and the way those are made in order to preserve academic integrity. Otherwise, of course, any notion of tenure becomes, well, un-tenable.

I would have been standing alongside the picket lines in solidarity today, except that I just found out that an old friend I never see anymore -- do you have those? people with whom you absolutely connect, with whom you share a history, values, interests, can natter on for hours if you bump into each other, but with whom you don't deliberately arrange visits? -- has been diagnosed, after years of encroaching symptoms, either ignored, or explained away, with a degenerative, likely terminal, neurological disease. As soon as I heard this, I was determined to visit G. before we went away, given that seven weeks could take her further down the path she's on. I haven't seen her for at least two years, and I was shocked at the change. Parkinsonism prevails, she's shrunken and swollen, her eyes somewhat fixed, she explained, by the neurology. But we had a wonderful visit. Her passionate intellect, her open, engaging warmth, her absolute lack of self-pity, her still-intact sense of humour and her ability to be fabulously outrageous -- all still there, if slowed down because of speech impairment.  Because she can't quite trust her body anymore, she's not getting out much, and she misses the intellectual stimulation of lectures, art galleries, concerts, and good old arguments more than anything else.

In the face of G's challenges, the difficulties of this week, mainly financial, after all, are negligible (although her celebration of an intellectual life strengthened my resolve to stand in solidarity with my colleagues against an ever-swelling university administration adoption of a Corporate model).  Her challenges not only remind me of my obvious good fortune, but they remind me that such fortune is tenuous. Rather than weaken its value, this fragility demands that fortune be grasped while it can -- and that it be shared.  The dark shadow of G's illness will encroach on my time in Europe, I know.  Afternoon glasses of red wine will be interrupted with a memory that she suffers. But if we have that time left to us, I will visit her when I get back and regale her with stories and pictures. And thank her for reminding me, for letting me see through eyes that hurt, thus treasure . . .


  1. Oh, I'm so sorry about your beloved friend's condition. One thing we have done while traveling is lighting candles in various churches and cathedrals we visit. We take a few minutes to remember our lost ones and those that are suffering. You have had a tough week, Mater. Hope the weekend can lift your spirits. Take care.

  2. I'm so very sorry to hear about your friend's condition, and about the other tribulations the week has brought. Good fortune, good health are indeed fleeting and tenuous. Each year, I think, it becomes more and more important to grasp those good moments, to take advantage of stable finances and good health to travel (or whatever it is we enjoy doing) and grab that slippery fish of a day with both hands.

  3. is wishes for your friend and her struggle....raise your glass high and hold firmly her hand....sadly, I have said too many goodbyes.

    Four strokes are the best motor they Hondas or be they Yamaha's...efficient too and with the rise in petrol they make sense.

    You have a lot going on in your patch...sleep well.

  4. It is for the very reasons you have eloquently described here that Emin spends his entire waking life planning to avoid, the fear of death and a life less fulfilled haunts him. I often wonder how close death is, would I want to know or not? It is for me a very fine line between saving for the future and living for today.
    I watched a documentary on Alexander McQueen last night and cried like a baby, to have so much and yet still not enjoy it made me realise how lucky I am, so enjoy your holiday and see you soon!

  5. Marguerite: I've done this as well, from quite young, part of my Catholic heritage. . . I've moved away from that the last few years, but it's a practice worth reclaiming, I think. And I know G. would like it as well.
    Pseu: Grab the slippery fish indeed! Thank you.
    Hostess: and there will be more and more of them at this stage of our lives, I suppose.
    We really like the 4-stroke! We've had our Yamaha 60 4-stroke for 9 years, so it served us quite well. They are so much quieter an engine than the 2-stroke, which we had previously -- sometimes, in fact, I've had to look at the motor to see that it's on! and environmentally so much better -- rarely seem to be stopping to fill up.
    Alison: Obviously, it walks with us all the time, but we're generally, most of us at least, more able to ignore it. Right now, I'm a bit shaken because it's so "in my face" and it's unnerving to think of a friend who has to look it in the mirror day in and day out.

  6. I'm so sorry to hear of these challenges, especially your friend's illness. It's a double-edged sword, always - no one wants misfortune or illness to touch their lives, but at the same time we need to be reminded to live every day to the full ... I love Pseu's 'slippery fish of a day'.

  7. Mater, I'm sorry to hear about your friend's very serious illness. It is good to take pause, and I love the idea of lighting candles in churches. I do that myself and love the feeling of peacefulness and reflection it brings as I think of the person.

    I hope the financial setbacks won't spoil your vacation.

    I read your description of the faculty situation with interest, as I believe this issue has come up at Martin's college, but I can't really comment -- need to be careful what I write in public. I hope your faculty succeed in obtaining that clause.

  8. Dad always said "if your troubles can be cured by money, they aren't troubles", Who knows what awaits each of us? I only hope I might live as graciously and wholly, given any limitations, as G. is doing now.

  9. Tiffany: It's been both sobering and, oddly, a call to celebrate what I have now -- a disquieting mix in many ways.
    Susan T: As we move increasingly to a Market/Business model in all walks of life, tenure becomes less and less protected. And with it, academic freedoms . . .
    Duchesse: Your Dad was a wise man! Although we've had months when we wearied of consoling ourselves that "it's only money" as the troubles piled up. And I share your hope to live fully and with grace and dignity until the end, whatever the limitations I may suffer. I can hope, at least . . .


I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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