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northern capitals: Helsinki, Ottawa

You know who is going to save the world from the maniacs currently running it? Another kind of maniac – the comedians. I just watched Sacha Baron Cohen pretending to be an Israeli operative speaking to American politicians and gun supporters about kinderguardians – training children as young as four – and younger – to use pistols. From the Guardian: Cohen as Morad (“Are liberals using school shootings to further their anti-tragedy agenda?”) gets various gun nuts in and outside Washington to promote arming pre-schoolers. “Fill the Puppy Pistol by pushing his lunchbox into his belly and sending the naughty men for a really, really long timeout,” says one, joyously. The gun lobbyist Larry Pratt notes that if children are young enough, “if they haven’t developed a conscience yet, they can make very good soldiers”.

The interview is beyond nauseating yet hilarious – but it’s not a joke, it’s true, at least, the people he’s talking to mean every loathsome word. The level of criminal idiocy on display defies belief. Almost enough to make one give up on humanity. I don’t think I can bear to watch more than this one brilliant segment.

However. We have no choice, we live here on this endangered little planet, and we have children, grandchildren, friends, homes, gardens, books, and many other things we love. Somehow we have to get through this insanely murderous time, while the most ghastly human beings on the face of the earth, Trump and Putin, dominate the conversation worldwide. Right now, dominating the news feeds with Trump’s lunatic display in Helsinki. Mind-blowing. Nightmarish. Grotesque.

I am just back from Ottawa where I spent the weekend in the geriatric ward of a hospital, and let me tell you, it’s not a place you want to linger. My aunt is not unhappy there; “I’m in a four star hotel!” she exclaimed, as yet another drooping beige meal was delivered to her bed – the man across the hall horking up his lungs, the woman in the bed across the room catatonic while her big sons sat silently beside her. People in wheelchairs struggling to manoeuvre the halls, a very determined old woman with a walker marching up and down, back and forth.

As did my aunt. She got out of bed several times, despite back pain, and we trucked up and down the halls and to the dining room where the TV lives, and watched a bit of the World Cup. I discovered her TV had been disconnected and got it connected it again so we could watch Wimbledon and the great British baking show and other shows that gave her pleasure. Otherwise, if there’s no one around, she’s just lying there dozing. No wonder she’s losing muscle and brain. She’s never been vague before, so forgetful, so disoriented.

On the march, up and down the hall.

A not unhappy camper, 98 years 3 months old.

In an open drawer in her apartment, where I stayed, this was on a cigar box. Everything is marked and listed. If you want sealing wax, you know where to go.

There’s a lesson here: I tried to get her to move to assisted living a few years ago and was pilloried by her friends who felt I was forcing this wonderfully independent woman to go somewhere she didn’t want and wasn’t ready to go. No doubt I was, and she did indeed have a few more years at home. But now – now when the situation is fairly dire and it looks like she will never go home again – she’s at the mercy of the system. At the most vulnerable time of her life, she’ll have to go wherever they put her and be surrounded by strangers. It makes me very sad.

And what this means to me is more back and forth to Ottawa, as happened during the end time of my mother. Only Do is a tough old bird and may go on for a long long time, even if she’s somewhere she doesn’t like. It is not a pretty picture and fills me with despair. And in the meantime, in the background, my friend Wayson, who came over for dinner, is watching CNN and it’s all about hideousness. Soon we are going to watch a doc about Robin Williams. So we can laugh before we cry.

Tomorrow is Ben’s 3rd birthday. I missed his party on Sunday but am going over tomorrow with sidewalk chalk, a puzzle, and I hope a harmonica which I have to go out and search for tomorrow. It’s a privilege to spend time with loved ones at the very beginning and at the very end. Though often, it won’t surprise you to learn, these loved ones make me cry.

And here, a thought from your old-fashioned correspondent:


The bicycle is the most civilized conveyance known to man. Other forms of transport grow daily more nightmarish. Only the bicycle remains pure in heart. -Iris Murdoch, writer (15 Jul 1919-1999) 



3 Responses to “northern capitals: Helsinki, Ottawa”

  1. Julia Z says:

    This is a lovely, touching post, Beth. And you're so right: it is a privilege to spend time with loved ones — especially at the early/later stages. They're lucky to have you (and vice versa).

  2. theresa says:

    Our grandchildren share a birthday, I think? Our Kelly turned 4 today, in Edmonton. We sent fairy wings, books, a cupcake that can be used as a squirter. And much love. (Her grandad has a simple single-string banjo, made by a local musician, to give her when she comes next week. It requires some instruction!) You're so lucky to have yours close!

  3. beth says:

    Thank you both for your kind thoughts. Yes, I'm lucky to have my grandchildren on the other side of town, but I dearly wish I lived closer to my aunt, who right now needs me much more. Well – I do what I can. Just came back from Anna's, gave Ben the harmonica – it's a dreadful cheap one but it made him happy. He was singing the "Mr. Golden Sun song" "Please shine down on please shine down on please shine down on…" as we walked, and a man passing by said, "Thanks a LOT, I spent ten years trying to get Raffi songs out of my head and now they're back." Happy Tuesday to you both.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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