Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Observation #6
     Back to the here and now-
work is 'underway'. The old soldier's story will be told.
Thanks for the responses and input-your questions were challenging but I enjoy being challenged-makes me think.
The input I have received and hope to continue to receive really has been helpful  I'd be interested in any one else's Blog if you care to tell me about it.
                          Any more Blogs or sites that anyone thinks may give me more food for thought are welcome.They do not have to be related to what I am up to- As in a painting, sometimes the form of something is more inspiring than the content.
yours truly,

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Observations #5
 the Padre looks back   Part 3

               After leaving home I had some turbulent years on my way to becoming a priest. I first went to Assumption College High school, then to Assumption College, then to Western University and with effort got a BA in 1928- after St Peter's Seminary in London. During those years as well as learning Church Doctrine, I discovered Shakespeare and with difficulty learned Latin. Both I think are essential for clergy and non clergy alike. I also seemed to be prone to taking risks. My swimming the Detroit river on a dare didn't seem like a big deal to me then because for some reason I found swimming to be an effortless way to travel. That did however get me into trouble with my superiors and I came to realize that my big ego had to be held in check.
      I was ordained on May 21 1932.What seemed a shocker and  unfortunate to some but what I saw as a privilege was the fact that my first funeral service as a priest was for my mother who died on Dec 8 1932- the Church's Feast Day of The Immaculate Conception.
           During the years of schooling, thanks to my father, I paid no tuition but  eventually sent my last account of $500.00 from England during the war.  From 1932 until 1939 I was at Holy name Church in Windsor and St Alphonsus Church, teaching Catholic and Non-Catholic youth Baseball and football and Hockey .
      In the summer of 1939 I saw my father and he spoke of the inevitability of war. I was too busy to pay much attention but suddenly it was September 10 and Canada had declared war on Germany. There was a kind of war fever and almost an excitement in the air. Hundreds of young men who never heard of the Treaty of Versailles (my father's explanation for the war),were signing up to fight.
      Dozens of men whom I knew as youngsters, now young men, or older teenagers, Catholic and Non-Catholic were eager to volunteer. Even if their signing up was partly due to poor job prospects and a desire for adventure, they understood that fellow Hitler had to be stopped..
         Many of those men- not just Catholics, from Windsor and the area joined the Essex Scottish Regiment. I had met so many of these men and knew their strengths and weaknesses, that I began to wonder -will the military give them the sort of support they need to deal with what was coming up?. I don't mean just spiritual support. It became clear in the years to follow that  battle fatigue or shell shock was something the military knew very little about.
          I fretted about volunteering and found myself wondering what my father would think. Purely by chance I ran into my brother Walter in the Windsor Detroit Tunnel. Walter, 4 years older than me, was also a lot more 'worldly'. After listening to me he said testily: "live your own Life Mike". I have to 'confess' that like the younger lads, a lot of my own  motivation was to join in the adventure. I had no idea what it would be like and in spite of thinking that I, with almost 20 years on the youngest of the men, had more insight into the affairs of war, I was wrong.
             I came to see how war changes a man. I saw the results of evil up close, I saw good men die, good men ruined, men lose their faith, their will to live -lose all chance for peace of mind during and after the war.
Perhaps that is what kept me in a perpetual state of high energy, striving to see humour in any and all experiences I had. For 6 1/2 years I never even caught a cold.
                 Perhaps if I had given into the despair that I felt almost daily, I never could have kept going. As my nephew noted in his note of gratitude to an old Mentor Carl Schaffer (who was also a war Artist) 'work', or as some would say, 'participation' or 'striving' provides salvation. With that I would also add David Alexander's observation that 'faith' is essential. Like countless others I have said 'War is Hell'. With it's soul destroying effect and it's assault on the human heart and mind during and after war, I have to add that it is literally Hell  here on  the Good Earth.
              I got my Uniform and  in the case of another 'first',  the first funeral I conducted in that uniform was this time for my Father who died the day after Christmas 1939.
                It was 9 days before Canada officially declared war that I wrote to the Bishop Kidd: "If you are called upon to furnish Chaplains for the service, I shall be ready".
           That winter was spent at the Windsor Barracks of the Essex Scottish Regiment.I conducted the usual church services and heard confessions. It was around then that I began to feel that father Mac, my confessor of 1913 was looking over my shoulder.
        On May 25 I moved with the Regiment to Camp Borden and on June 1 1940 I was officially appointed as the Chaplain of the 4 th  Infantry Brigade, including the Essex Scottish, the Royal regiment of Canada and the Hamilton Light Infantry. During those months I was as involved with the training as were the men. Those above me in rank tolerated my failure to adhere to the arbitrary rules of the Military. They knew I respected the need for strict discipline but they also knew the men liked me because I was not a 'Yes man' and in training I could out-run and out-shoot most of the lads.
                  On July 16 1940 we embarked in broad daylight on the Empress of Australia (the ship that                            brought the King and Queen of England to Canada in 1939)
 The following is a direct quote from Index E of my War Diary
"Enroute" (on the Atlantic)
               " There was an air of anticipation. Something exciting and dangerous was about to take place in their lives. These young men had strange new feelings coursing through their veins. One moment they were busy with longing thoughts of home, already it was-of Canada. The next moment the feeling changed to anticipatory tingling, an anxiousness to get moving. This is Life,this is adventure, this is life-or death.. To be apart of the big adventure was enough to make many an eye wander over the horizon dreaming as many thoughts as there were young men. The new Army Chaplain's thoughts were not too far off from the rest of his lads. His thoughts too were more of the adventure than of the War peril"...
             " Even the married soldiers, although more lonesome, bravely recorded glowing words of optimism (in their letters home ) that their arrival would end war, as 2nd Canadian Division was the only fully equipped Division that could travel on wheels in England. England had more soldiers but their equipment was at Dunkirk, France"
                                We docked at Clyde Glasgow on July 31 1940    
                I spent the first years with my Regiment the Essex Scottish, in England and the Isle of Wight. Until Dieppe on August 18 1942 we were mostly involved in training and watching the seashore to the east and helping out in war torn London. Because of the mauling we took at Dieppe we didn't make the 26 mile trip on D-day June 6 1944; we landed on the beach of Normandy on July 7 1944.
        I spent the rest of the War -until May 7 1945- VE Day (Victory in Europe) in France, Belgium, Holland and the Border of Germany.

        My nephew regrets that I didn't start my War Diary until Mar 1 1942 .But I did write a supplement to the Diary in 1976 when I returned to Europe. He may get something from that. I know he is one of the few who read my original Diary -the little black book, and has read and re-read the final copy.
        This should be enough to set the stage. I know my nephew has ideas coming out his ears and all he has to do now is select the best ones. He spent a life-changing summer as a Cadet at army camp Ipperwash, so he has somewhat of a sense of what being in a group of young warriors is like. He also toyed with the idea of  joining the Military during his second year at Art College when he attended the Militia training weekly during that winter at Moss Park Armories in Toronto. He admits if he hadn't received a paycheck for that he probably would not have attended. I also know he realizes in his words that he hasn't a clue about what it feels like to be under fire or to wake up and find your helmet has holes in it.
                 I know his will not be a work of historical fiction. He will base his work solely on the contents of the diary, and I readily admit there were aspects to war that I saw only from a distance. He just recently got proof that I was NOT awarded the Military Cross as has been reported. I'm grateful that he corrected that error and I'm looking forward to his so-called graphic novel. I think his work will not have the tone of a clergy man (as does my diary) but I hope he includes some of my observations about the role of a belief  in the sanctity of somethings like freedom, compassion, love and the now old fashioned words: Faith Hope and Charity. I also expect that as he searches for information in my diary he does not overlook the humour I noted and found essential to what peace of mind I could maintain... humour and music...them's the keys!
with a little prayer thrown in to keep up appearances.
             . I have to accept that my nephew  has not carried on in  the family religion, but as during war when I saw people of all creeds working towards one end, I can't fault him for that. He has great empathy for those who have suffered at the hands of the clergy and I am just grateful he doesn't number me among them.  Their day of judgement will come.
              This will likely be the last blog entry for sometime.  I hope it has provided a chance to see the big picture of my war experience. I was no hero. I was often weak and my relatives and those who knew me were kind in their acceptance of me with all my flaws. The coming tale will not be 'about me'. It will relate what was seen by me, but I consider my faith and my good luck to have been responsible for my being able to witness the horrors of war and to be able to continue.  Like many I never fully got over the stress of the  war and I'm glad my nephew understands the nature of what is now called Post Traumatic Stress. I was just  lucky to have remained healthy and privileged to work with those who gave their lives. Because of their sacrifice you are free to read this and  I-  I was able to live for 106 years 11 months and one day.
         Stress in the Military is just as big a problem now as it was in my time and although he won't make this
an essay on  that topic, perhaps some of the content of his work will help my Nephew to draw attention to
 the problem. My nephew hesitates to write anything in my name but he knows from experience that at this point  I would  wish the Blessings of whatever Divinity you chose upon you.
                       Major Mike -resting in peace
                       May you live in peace.
Observations #4
Perhaps better titled: the Padre looks back-Part 2

   As a further bit of reminiscing that may help set the stage, maybe now I'll talk a little bit about how things 'started-out'  for me, and eventually 'played out'. I don't think I'll be giving 'away' any aspect of the story that's coming. The facts are already known at the  superficial level of when and where and I'll just restate some of them here and maybe hint at where my nephew  seems to be planning  to take this whole thing.

    It was November 1913 and I was on my way to confess my sins. I was 11 years old. My last confession was two weeks ago but then instead of feeling better after I said my penance- I felt worse.
    I was more troubled than I'd ever been in my life. I'd never realized before this what real unhappiness felt like.
    I lived on a farm with my parents and 4 brothers and 4 sisters.We lived about a mile from Lake Huron and less than that from the new big Church at Kingsbridge .
     On my way to confess I had time to think about what I was going to say. This was going to be a hard confession. In spite of my anxiety I felt that nothing could be worse than living with the secrets I'd been holding onto. I'd been to confession lots of times and I usually had the same sins to tell. Sisters Vincent and Sebastian had us examine our conscience and  most of the time I couldn't think of anything different to say
so I just changed the number of times for each sin. I wanted it to sound like I was truthful and  sincere...yes I realize the irony of a child's reasoning.
    Sister Vincent said there were only ten commandments so I guessed it was normal not to have any new sins. However after my last confession I was greatly troubled; my sin didn't seem to be covered in the ten commandments. I wasn't even sure if it was a Mortal sin or a Venial sin -it sure felt like it must be a Mortal one because I couldn't stop thinking about it. I couldn't find a name for what I had done wrong so I was afraid I'd have to explain it.
                          Not only that but in that last confession I hadn't told everything.
                  My troubling confession was about a week after the big storm that lasted from Nov 8 until Nov hundred years ago. There was so much snow that we couldn't go anywhere so we didn't learn until  later that many ships went down in the Great Lakes and 250 men died.

      After the storm my father went out  to get the news and when he came back he told us what had happened and that we should not go to school and we should definitely not go back to the lake. He looked right at me when he said that last part and his eyes narrowed as if he were giving me a warning.

     As it turned out that storm and my confessions during that time were major factors in what became my path to the priesthood, but back then  I seriously wished I had listened to my father.
    Now as I walked slowly to the church in what people were calling a late Indian Summer I was full of despair

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Observation #3
In this case better called Reflections from Major Mike
      From here I observe everything. That is: observe the  past and the  present; I don't think even the big guy knows the future. Even though we (those who lived and whose body died), have gone beyond 'Duality' into that realm of perfect unity consciousness and are in the realm of the Eternal Spirit- the Eternal  Soul ,we  have not lost our sense of  humour..."Remember to keep holy the days of laughter" (that's my personal 11th commandment) The 'Big Guy' is all of us, but that's too complicated to get into now.
                    This is a photograph of my family (minus the 2 who died in Childhood) It was 1932- the year I was ordained into the priesthood.We were a big family full of energy and ambition-sometimes unruly, but filled with concern for, and loyalty to, each other. Each of us lived a full and rich life, sometimes challenging, but always rewarding. A story could be told about each one.My nephew's father Dennis, is second from the left in the back row. My very first Funeral mass was for my Mother seated on the left; it was that same year.
I had a funeral mass for my Father 7 years later just before I went off to War.

         It is a rare opportunity for any of us to have our past lives looked at, so when I heard of my nephew's plans I thought:  why not give him a little help. He's close to realizing that all is One ... undifferentiated consciousness - stuff like that- the unity of all things-  reality kept separate only  by that slow to evolve aspect of mankind-the  Ego. He likes to use the word 'Maya'.  That illusion of separateness  is part of mankind's challenge to overcome. My nephew has studied -yes I mean 'studied' all the major spiritual paths and he would be quick to tell you his study is nowhere near that of a scholar, but he knows enough to be able to have the perspective on the larger principles of spirituality, to see the commonality in all paths.
                       I'd like to think that I had a role to play in that. From my advantage point here (which by the way is everywhere and nowhere) I have that thing my nephew secretly envies about those who claim to have it - 'Total Recall" -Actually it's not recall at all ,,, but that's an issue about time- the illusion of time and there is ironically no time now to get into such a tough concept.
                    My role in his seeking and gaining what he would call his 'limited awareness' took place over those years when I saw him- from his childhood until his 7th decade. I always sensed he wanted to know more about the reasons I became a priest and about the war years. Unfortunately we never  took the time to
talk as much as he now wishes we did . He was a reserved personality and I couldn't  normally suppress what other's called my gregariousness, but when we were alone we did talk, and it was frequent over the 60 some years we were together, I could tell he was taking it all in. One of the highlights, as he regards it, was when I mentioned that when I visited a dying soldier or held the hand of a wounded warrior I never asked him what his particular faith was, or if he even had one. My nephew is also quick to tell everyone how, after the war  any  public or church  event that I was a part of- (got an award or something), had to be non denominational.-I insisted on it. As much as it was hell and almost destroyed me, war completed my education. (I don't recommend it as there are many other ways to become a fully realized person.)
       On another occasion  when I purchased 2 of his etchings he was impressed that I knew they were properly called 'intaglios'. I did possess a good aural memory and it is delightful now for me to hear my nephew sing one of my old chestnuts -the Young Folks Old Folks song.
      Much could be said about everyone's relationships with those they were close to but for now I'd like to
leave that and talk about events, most of which will not appear in my nephew's work. Those events and experiences are offered to set the stage, perhaps be like a foreword or an introduction.
        I doubt that my nephew will try to 'channel' me to write the introduction to his book (if he even has an introduction ), but I can tell he is considering it. I am hoping he will get past the 'conventions' that are deemed to be necessary to creating something worthwhile-I mean the literary conventions- and find a Creative  path to telling what he will refer to as his story (even though it is my story!) -Not that his grammar couldn't stand some improvement.
       Just yesterday he found a statement that didn't sit well with him. The statement was a word of advice to bloggers- namely to keep the entries to fewer than 800 words. I know he is thinking that if someone cannot attend to a reading that may take 10 or 15 or even 20 minutes to read, then they likely are not going to be the audience he anticipates will 'Dig' his stuff. He made me smile back in the sixties when he challenged my broad mindedness by using that phrase. I still like it. I can Dig it.
          However, he is just wise enough to know that some advice- like the 800 word limit is based on an experience of this medium and other's expectations for it, so he will now take the advice (did anybody count the words?) and call this the end of Part One of this blog that he hopes will inspire him to action beyond his current snail's pace and  create some curiosity in others. My advice ?
-Don't hold your breath.
 Major Mike

Friday, 1 November 2013

Observation # 2
    Thanks for the feedback. When it was suggested that I should have a name or a title for this blog
I was 'stumped'- so much rests on a name...In order to co-operate and get the set-up done I didn't think about it very long and said : how about Observations...seemed general enough to get away with.
      I wonder if anyone has ever regretted going to the Dictionary. When I thought about my usual habit of trying to explain things- things like why I thought "Observations" might work, I reached for the dictionary.
       Now I can boast that I knew there was 'something about that word'.I hope the following is of some interest. For me, perhaps ever since my high school Latin classes, the etymological study of words-their origins, has been interesting.

Here's what one dictionary has
for the Noun:Observation        1   a-the action or process of observing someone or something                                                                             carefully in order to gain information
                                                       b-an observed truth or fact; a thing learned  by observing.
                                                 2    -perception: the faculty of taking notice.
                                                 3    -a remark or statement, that is of the nature of a comment
                                                 4    a-the accurate watching and noting  phenomenon etc.for the purpose of                                                         scientific investigation
                                                       b-a measurement or other result so obtained
                                                       c-the noting of  symptoms of a patient, the behaviour of a suspect, etc.                                                    5   -the taking of the sun's or another celestial body's altitude to find a                                                                  latitude or longitude.
                                                 6   -Military the watching of an enemy's position or movements.
That is just the noun
Here is a little more-
about the Verb:Observe  that further enhances my claim that it is a good and useful word
                                                   1.  perceive, note; take notice of; become conscious of..
                                                   2.  watch carefully.
                                                   3.  a-follow or adhere to a law, method. principle, command
                                                        b-maintain (silence).
                                                        c- keep or adhere to (an appointed time)
                                                        d- duly perform (a rite).
                                                        e- celebrate (an anniversary)
                                                    4. examine and note (without the aid of experiment)
                                                    5. say,esp. by way of comment.

      As someone who has never felt that the depth of my vocabulary is adequate to express even the meagre ideas I do have, I enjoy realizing the scope of what I used to think was just another word. It seems like there is a lot of potential in that word 'observe' to keep one going for a while.
       One might say there is more to the word  Observe than meets the eye !

             Today's entry is being written 'free-hand' (an expression that make artists yawn)-no longer from that fantasy realm of a Turkish Prison .I had to do some errands yesterday, but I checked the email and found 3 responses to Observation #1. Hurrah-somebody read it! Three somebodies. I read the replies hastily thinking I'll read them later more carefully. Each were thoughtful and I was really looking forward to really reading them
           So I did my errands and upon returning home discovered that my nice big monitor had died-Kaput-
It occurred to me to wonder: is this an omen?.To top it off, I then had no vehicle to go and get a new  monitor-.....such is life....
           Now that I have a new $79.00 refurbished monitor (whatever that means), I was told mine couldn't be 'refurbished- not cost effective'. I suspect it just means someone wiped the dust off of  the used one I purchased.
            My first three replies comment were from 3 'old' pals and they had the wit and insights that I came to expect from those three. I always suspected there was more to you three than meets the eye.(thank god for that!).   I wondered if, as in my pen pal letters, one is expected to reply to every response? I did send notes off to those three who managed to slog their way through my writing- seemed like they earned it...Now the thought crosses my mind what have I got myself into?
            To those three respondents I have to say many thanks-I don't need much encouragement to experiment with things, but your replies, whether you intended it or not, did give me some incentive to explore this blog business a bit more.
          Those 3 also made me think that while a lot of  interesting things in our culture are happening on line lots of interesting and involved people, with things to say, are not being heard from... and maybe they are ok with that. I just discovered this method of communicating and as of now beyond my sort of thinking out loud about my book project and hoping others would give me some ideas (which has already happened) ,I cannot
see myself doing a lot with this. although....
      I recently  read a comment by Kenneth Lerer of the Huffington Post. he said :"I think working online is a little like painting in oil(he obviously hasn't tried acrylic)-you  try out a shade of green, and if you don't like it, you just paint over it and make it blue. Or orange, Or whatever".
           It was his reference to painting that caught my eye, but most of all I heard that voice of the old student reminding me(a warning) to write one day and send it off the next(that was you Gregory). Once something is put out there there is no taking it back.  Be sure the painting is finished the way you want it before you varnish it.. Of course all you Bloggers know this stuff but for me it's new .
         Did you know that the word Blog was coined by Adaptive Path founder Peter Merholz in 1999? -old news to me. There is a lot of neat stuff in The Huntington Post's Complete Guide to Blogging.
         OF course one of the questions I found in the Complete Guide, to beginners is, as Bob asked :  what is your goal? hmmmmm.... I guess to be honest it is to experiment. My goal isn't listed under the book's : to make a living, to share your passion, (well, maybe a little bit), to establish yourself as an expert, to share information etc .
    When advice offered was to be specific about 'your goals', I didn't hesitate-my immediate goal in # one was to hear from others about how they deal with 'blocks' or inertia  in an project that which one knows the block is not is not just procrastination. I suppose I also wanted to have some fun...maybe get a chuckle or two.
      This number two Observance is to thank those who replied and just to get my preliminary thoughts out of the way- I suppose that could read like: sharing an enthusiasm  for something. That seems like something which I used to try to do as a teacher -so my students would see that whatever creative activity I was putting before them was fun and had some merit.  Maybe it is also to see if there is anyone out there who can offer me anything relevant to anything. A final thought about it all. When I was a 'younger' Art student I tried out all the media I could -they just all seemed interesting.. For a while I'm sure some probably thought I'd find a niche maybe as a print-maker, or a stained glass maker or a silk-screener, or for a short time as a medical illustrator or a painter even. Alas, even though what I do now is mostly Drawing and Painting, I don't think I'm a niche kind of guy -maybe it would be easier but it seems there are things yet I'd like to of them being an illustrated book.
            Back in 1972 under Grant money, I did a few dozen drawings for a text Book on the anatomy of  the dog. Then in October of 2011 I did the thing that really got me to where I am now. That was the Graphic Novel- more correctly it should have been called a ' Graphic Booklet'. That  for the R.O.M and it's big  Maya exhibition. It did have about 50 drawings and was one of the most engaging projects I'd done for years. It was really fun to do-(receiving emails from the Curator almost every morning for 34 days straight-then designing the pages to suit the text and  drawing all day).  I'm eternally grateful to Sheila for setting it up for me. It is that kind of engagement involvement I'm looking forward to in my Uncle Mike project and with most of what has felt like stumbling blocks out of the way I am optimistic .
      I think I should end this any time now- introspection and public self analysis can be pretty tiresome and boring so until next time....B.