Sunday 28 June 2020

Blog Post - 28 June 2020 - "Signal Textures"

Signal Textures

Over the last few weeks, I’ve posted essays on topics that included racism, homophobia, Christianity, and growing old. Heavy going, much of it. Emotionally risky for me.

This week’s post is more modest. And next week’s post as well. Think of it as hitting the refresh button.

Today, I’m writing in celebration of textures and beer. Regular followers of this blog may recognize texture as a recurring theme in my photographs. Even after five years of serious photography, I continue to find textures visually rewarding and nurturing. 

What’s new is celebrating beer along with the textures.

Let me explain:

I love a good Pilsner beer. Few things are more satisfying for me than a cold Pilsner on a hot day. Until I moved to Belleville in 2014, my favourite Pilsner had come from Toronto’s Steam Whistle Brewery, located in the Canadian Pacific Railway’s former John Street Roundhouse at the foot of the CN Tower. 

Mmmmm – love that Steam Whistle Pilsner!

But my love of Steam Whistle’s Pilsner was challenged in 2017 by Radio Tube, a Pilsner brewed right here in Belleville by the Signal Brewing Company. (Link) Signal Brewing is the brainchild of the talented and farsighted Belleville businessman Richard Courneyea. Richard saw the dilapidated remains of the former Corby Distillery in Corbyville – just north of Highway 401 on the Moira River in Belleville – and he had an idea. Richard’s dream was to restore the building and repurpose it as a brewery and restaurant. After years of planning and building, Signal opened in 2017 and soon became part of Belleville’s DNA. One element of that DNA is Signal’s Radio Tube Pilsner. 

Move over, Steam Whistle! You’re sharing ‘fav’ status with Radio Tube! (And, no, Richard didn’t pay me to write this!)

Similar to restaurants all over Canada, Signal Brewery closed down in March. And, similar to resourceful restaurateurs everywhere, Richard and his team were soon back at work supplying take-out meals – and hand sanitizer. And, of course, the Radio Tube Pilsner kept flowing – much to my delight when Bill and I would pick up dinner at Signal’s take-out window.

And here’s where the textures come in: the area adjacent to Signal’s Corbyville location is rich in industrial textures, both from the site’s storied past and Richard’s recent renovations. Early one spring evening, while Bill was standing in a distanced line to pick up our Signal dinner and beer, I wandered around the area with my camera. And these photographs are the result.

I hope you enjoy them. And I hope you also have the opportunity to enjoy Signal’s beers, menu, and ambience, especially now that its beautiful patio has re-opened on the banks of the Mighty Moira. 

Thank you.

Larry Tayler Photography
Belleville, Ontario

Sunday 21 June 2020

Blog Post - 21 June, 2020 - Racism. Alas, My Racism.

Racism. Alas, My Racism. 
Part 1 of an Ongoing Conversation.

Sometimes, you have to write about difficult things. 

This is one of those times. 

I have been asking myself what role I play – as a white person – in the systemic racism that keeps manifesting itself in Canada and other countries. Am I complicit in the racism that Indigenous people, Black people, and other People of Colour experience simply because I’m white? 

I have been listening, reading, thinking and weeping about this question. 

And my answer is: Yes, I am complicit. Appallingly and remorsefully, I am complicit. Which means I am a racist. A polite, well intentioned racist, but a racist nonetheless. By default.

It is now time to write about racism – my racism. This essay is the beginning of the beginning of that conversation.

These thoughts – these untidy, confusing, shameful thoughts – are wholly my own, and I am speaking only for myself. Some may think I am virtue signalling. Please believe I am trying hard to avoid doing that. I am just trying to understand.

If you do not agree with what I am saying, especially if you identify as white, please take your disagreement elsewhere for now. I hope, however, that you will return to my words at some point and reconsider them.

If you do agree with what I am saying, please let my words live in your heart for a time. Combine them with your own wisdom and see what takes root.

First things first: I was born white. And I was born into a predominantly white rural Ontario community. As the cliché goes, “To the fish, the water is invisible.” I was not aware that I was white. When I made decisions, I did not have to consider my race. I did not fear being followed by a store clerk when I shopped. I did not fear being stopped by a police officer. I did not fear having other people assume I was doing something illegal. And when I saw ‘Flesh-Coloured Band Aids’ in our home, I did not think twice about the fact that the colour of those band aids matched my skin colour... because white was the norm. And I was white. Therefore, I was the norm. 

I now know that everything in that last paragraph adds up to white privilege. Invisible White privilege.

As a result, I simply did not think about being white during my childhood. Photographs in The National Geographic showed me that far, far away, there were people who looked different from me. But these National Geographic people were exotic exceptions who had nothing in common with me or the other people in my community. 

Because everyone in my community was white.

Except, of course, for the Hill family, the Indians (the term we used then) who lived in the tenant house on our farm. I did not understand why they lived there. But I did understand – without being told – that I was not to visit them. Of course, I did visit them because I liked the Hills, and I liked playing with their daughter, Betty. They were nice people who did not seem that much different from me...except that my clothes were cleaner than theirs. And their house smelled – the smell of poverty, I now realize.  I do not recall my parents ever saying anything negative about the Hills, but I knew that there was a line – my family and I stayed on one side of that line and the Hills stayed on the other. We all knew our places, without anything being said. Nothing was ever said. Because, of course, nothing needed to be said.

And I remember the first time I saw a Negro (again, the term we used then). My mother and I were walking in our local village when we saw a Negro woman across the street. I was curious because she was clearly ‘not one of us’. When I turned to ask my mother about the Negro, I saw my mother staring at her intensely. Not unkindly or fearfully. But staring, nonetheless. She then looked down at me and whispered, almost in awe, “That woman is black.” And then she resumed staring. And nothing else was said.

Bottom line: I lived in a cocoon of invisible whiteness.

My parents were good people. Loving, kind, generous people. I heard no overt racism from them; I saw no overt racism. The concept of race in our community was dealt with in silent agreement about who belonged and who did not. Everyone knew the rules. The Hills were allowed to stay because they were invisible. And they knew the rules. The visiting Black woman was an exception who would soon be gone – because she knew the rules too. 

Over the next months, I plan to write more about my understanding of racism and my white privilege. There is no schedule. I need time to listen, read, think, and process. I hope my photography will illuminate the journey.

For now, I am using two guiding principles to examine my racism and my white privilege:

Guiding Principle #1/The Prime Directive:

When exploring racism, I will:

A)     Stop talking.

B)      Listen.

C)     Believe the lived experience of racialized people.

Guiding Principle #2/The Other Prime Directive:

A)     By not having to consider my whiteness when making decisions about my life, I exhibit white privilege. 

B)      By denying my white privilege, I switch from being implicitly racist to being explicitly racist.

Thank you for reading this post.

Larry Tayler Photography
Belleville, Ontario

Sunday 14 June 2020

Blog Post, 14 June 2010: Journeys of a Gay Christian

Dear Friends,

A special post this week, in celebration of Pride Month.

A quilting friend of Bill’s, Betty Ann, is an active member of Trinity-St. Andrew’s United Church in nearby Brighton, Ontario; several months ago she asked me if I’d like to speak at her church’s annual Pride service on June 7. The Trinity-St. Andrew’s congregation, under the stewardship of the Reverend Wanda Stride, is an “Affirming Ministry” within the United Church, which means that it actively promotes the “inclusion and justice for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities,” both in the congregation and the wider population. United Church congregations from all parts of Canada are “affirming” and help make life safer and more welcoming for members of the LGBTQQ2IA+ communities. 

I readily accepted Betty Ann’s invitation, expecting that I would be addressing the congregation in person. Alas, COVID-19 had other ideas! So on Sunday, June 7, I made  my presentation via Zoom. Below is the text of my presentation. Reading time: about 15 minutes.

The photos that follow are intended to be joyful, colourful reminders of Pride month. I hope you enjoy both the presentation and the photos!

The Journeys of a Gay Christian 
Pride Service Presentation by Larry Tayler
Trinity-St. Andrew’s United Church, Brighton
Sunday, June 7, 2020

Thank you, Reverend Wanda and Betty Ann for inviting me to be part of your Pride activities. I am proud to be speaking to you as an openly gay man who is Christian. And my husband, Bill, is Christian. And my late husband was Christian. Now, some Christians believe you can’t be both gay and Christian. Well, they’re wrong. I feel sorry that their understanding of Christianity is so limiting. They really are missing the radically inclusive message of our faith. The lived experience of my life and the lives of countless others call out their homophobia. 

And I like the word ‘pride’ to celebrate the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Two-Spirit, Intersex, Asexual, Plus communities. Not everyone likes the word pride in the context of sexual identity. However, I’m not using ‘pride’ in the vain sense of “what cometh before the fall,” but in the generous, loving sense of a community’s acknowledgement of itself. It’s the same pride I feel for my grandchildren because they’re such wonderful human beings. 

Now, I’m calling this presentation “The Journeys of a Gay Christian” because there are two journeys I want to explore with you. 

My first Christian journey begins in the United Church of Canada. The United Church is part of my family DNA – on both sides. For decades, my mother’s family belonged to the Bloomfield United Church, while my father’s family belonged to the Wellington United Church. Yes, friends, I am a true Prince Edward County boy, having been born and bred in the County 73 years ago. My paternal great-grandfather, the Reverend Dr. Melvin Tayler, was a minister in the Methodist Church of Canada for many years before church union in 1925, after which he became a United Church minister. He had charges in the Eastern Townships, Montréal, and the Ottawa Valley. He even came out of retirement in 1927 to serve for a year at the Picton United Church when the previous minister left town suddenly with the pregnant church organist – but that’s another story.

In my youth, I spent most Sunday mornings at the Wellington United Church – through years of 10 o’clock Sunday School classes, 11 o’clock church services, confirmation classes, White Gift Sundays, Christmas pageants, Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and countless dinners in the church basement featuring baked beans, scalloped potatoes, sliced ham, Jell-O salads, and dry brownies, all catered by the Women’s Missionary Society. On December 31, 1966, my friend Sandy and I climbed the bell tower of the church and at midnight, we rang the bell 100 times to welcome Canada’s centennial year. For me, those early and mostly positive experiences of church in general and the United Church in particular were formative and influential. My family’s theology was simple – of course, there is a God; of course, you go to church; and, of course, you serve your community. For them, that was the real Trinity: Faith, Worship, Service.

While growing up on the family farm near Wellington, I also knew that I was attracted to men. I had no vocabulary for it, but I knew. My idol, after all, was the Lone Ranger in his tight pants, spending nights with Tonto out there on the lone prairie. Well, even as an eight-year-old, I had fantasies about how they kept warm during those chilly nights. Interestingly, I felt no shame about these fantasies. And nothing I heard from the pulpit of the Wellington United Church threatened me with hell-fire and damnation for having such thoughts.  But I also knew that I had to keep everything to myself, which ironically fostered an active inner life that was highly satisfying – and still is. I grew up liking my own company, enjoying my fantasies, and feeling totally comfortable with having a rich inner life. I look back on the awareness of that inner life as the beginning of my spiritual awareness as well.

But the world’s negativity towards homosexuality inevitably barged into my tiny, perfect fantasy life with violence and brutality. As a nine-year-old, for some reason I told a twelve-year-old on whom I had a crush that I really liked him. His response? He beat me up. I can still feel – and hear – his fist landing in my stomach and then my face. His friends joined in. That pain stays with me, as does his laughter and the laughter of his friends. It was not the only time I was beaten up. It seemed that as I got older, I had to keep relearning the lesson that I mustn’t say anything about my real feelings for other boys. Honesty got me beaten up. Honesty hurt. I didn’t know the word homosexual at that age, but I understood more about society’s hatred of homosexuals from the schoolyard than I ever did from a United Church pulpit. 

So those are the building blocks of my first Christian journey: growing up in the United Church, comfortable – perhaps too comfortable – with its traditions, and remaining essentially closeted.

In my late 20s, however, I found United Church services to be constricting. To be honest, I also found my life to be constricting, so I gradually drifted away from the church. I did, however, maintain an active interest in Christianity, the Bible, and spirituality. Looking back, I realize that I had already begun my second Christian journey. And this is the journey that led me to becoming a member of the Religious Society of Friends, aka, the Quakers, an affiliation I have maintained since the mid-1970s. A dear Belleville friend, herself a life-long Quaker, introduced me to Quakerism by saying, “I think this sounds like you.” And indeed it did.

Some background for those who might be fuzzy about Quaker history: cast your mind back to mid-17th century England, during the English Civil War. It was a time of profound change throughout England and Europe. The Protestant Reformation had been brewing for over a century and the Age of Enlightenment was on the cusp of blossoming. Traditional understandings of authority were being challenged and people were reading the Bible in their own language, thanks to the printing press, rather than having it read to them in Latin by a priest. And then, breathtakingly for the time, some of those readers began to interpret the Bible for themselves, much to the chagrin of the church establishment. In England, things got really out of hand when the House of Commons found King Charles I guilty of treason and beheaded him on January 30, 1649. When commoners execute their monarchs, all manner of mayhem can ensue. From this revolutionary brew, several small religious sects arose, including the Religious Society of Friends, members of which were disdainfully referred to as ‘quakers’ because they sometimes shook while speaking during worship. Members of the Religious Society of Friends eagerly adopted the name. By the way, the group’s official name comes from what Jesus said to his disciples in the Gospel of St. John, Chapter 15, verse 15, “I have called you friends.” Quaker beliefs include the conviction that you don’t need a priest or minister to interpret the Bible for you – you can do that for yourself, with divine guidance, because there is that of God in everyone. The way to resolve conflict is to appeal to that of God in others and settle disputes without violence, which is known as the Quaker Peace Testimony. Other basic tenets of Quakerism were simplicity, plain dress, the equality of men and women, and refusing to swear an oath. The worship services, known as meetings, were held in expectant silence, with people speaking only when they felt that God had given them something to say. Or, as one Quaker has put it, “Speak only if you can improve on the silence.”

Although early Quakers were certainly Christian, over the centuries that has evolved. Contemporary Quakers espouse a wide variety of theological understandings, from Bible-based Christian literalists on one end of the spectrum to universalists and non-theists at the other end. Some conservative Quaker meetings even have ministers. There are also small but dynamic groups of Jewish Quakers, Muslim Quakers, and atheist Quakers, just to make life interesting. 

If someone were to ask me to describe my form of Quakerism, I would say I am a progressive Christian who believes more in the importance of Jesus as an exemplar of human potential than in the theological complexities of Christ. The human Jesus is the one who walks with me and talks with me. The supernatural Christ requires magic and suspension of my intellect. The human Jesus celebrates with me on the good days and weeps with me on the bad days. The supernatural Christ sets a high standard that I will never be able to attain. The human Jesus allows me to grow into the theology of my beloved Grandmother Tayler who would say to me when I was depressed, “You’re perfect enough, Larry.” That’s the kind of Christian Quaker I strive to be.

Now, it’s hard for me to separate my spirituality from my sexuality. As I explored Quaker spirituality in the 1970s and 1980s, I was also actively exploring my sexuality. It was a powerful combination in which I saw no contradictions. In fact it was at a Quaker lesbian and gay workshop in Pennsylvania in 1983 that I met Spencer, my first husband. It was an inspired match, and we shared our lives together in Toronto for the next 29 years. Both of us drew on our Quaker spirituality and our gay sexuality to live full, productive, engaged lives. During the AIDS crisis, we were politically active and involved in the Toronto gay community. One of our callings was to attend the funerals of gay men whose families refused to attend. For us, it was a form of witnessing. Too often, walking into the funeral homes involved running the gauntlet of so-called Christians yelling in our faces, “God hates fags.” You can’t unhear that sort of hatred. More positively, my most rewarding activity was serving as the Quaker representative on the AIDS Spiritual Network, a coalition of faith-based groups that nurtured the spiritual needs of people living with AIDS. 

In the midst of the AIDS crisis, Spencer and I decided to marry, even though that wasn’t a legal option at the time. The local Quaker community was not fully supportive of equal marriage then, although it certainly is now. Sadly, we even received hate mail – imagine that: Quaker hate mail – as we tried to have our relationship recognized as a marriage by our Quaker meeting. After many difficult, unproductive sessions among members of the meeting to discuss our request, we finally gave up and simply organized our own wedding ceremony. It was a glorious celebration that I recall with joy and tears. From then on, we identified our relationship as a marriage and referred to each other as husbands. 

During this process, we experienced generous support from many people, but we also encountered a significant amount of homophobia. Quite frankly, the process wore me down, and I cut back on active participation in my Quaker meeting. By the early 2000s, I stopped attending altogether. And that continues to this day. I fell out of the habit of attending Quaker meetings. So, alas, I am not a poster boy for Quakerism. However, I continue to identify myself as a Quaker, stay connected with the larger Quaker community, and attend occasional Quaker Gatherings. And I have a number of dear Quaker friends, many of whom were incredibly supportive during my first husband’s illness and death in 2012. But over the years, I have decided that there is more than one way to be a Quaker. 

Which brings me to my fabulous second husband, Bill. He calls himself a “small ‘q’ Quaker”. He has found sustenance from his Quaker connections over the years. And we share a passion for seeing life as a series of spiritual journeys. Quakerism provides us with an important vocabulary for experiencing these journeys. When we married, we had a Quaker service, even if it was held in the chapel of the Anglican Girls’ school where I taught for twenty-four years.

And my journeys as a gay, Christian Quaker continue – in my reading and writing, in my photography, in my public speaking, in the workshops I facilitate, and in the life I strive to lead. I am blessed beyond measure and practise gratitude at each and every turn, especially in these days of uncertainty and isolation. 

And I am grateful to Trinity-St. Andrew’s for its outreach into the LGBTQQ2IA+ communities. You are making the world a safer, more welcoming place to live. Thank you.

And I thank you for your attention today and wish you the traditional Irish blessing, “May you have enough.”

Thank you.

Larry Tayler Photography
Belleville, Ontario

Monday 8 June 2020

Blog Post, June 8, 2020 - "Grace, Gravity & Getting Old"

Dear Friends,

This week’s blog post features the text of Grace, Gravity & Getting Old, a presentation I Zoomed to St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Picton, Ontario, on Thursday, May 28, 2020. I had been scheduled to make the presentation in person at the church, but our friend the pandemic had other ideas! Many thanks to the Reverend Lynne Donovan for inviting me and for setting up the Zoom broadcast. 

The title comes from the Quaker philosopher Parker J. Palmer’s 2018 book On The Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity & Getting Old. Palmer wrote the book to mark his 80th birthday. It is a wise and thoughtful meditation on aging – qualities I hope I brought to my riff on his book. 

If you wish to see a YouTube video of the Zoom broadcast, find it here. (Link) The quality of the video is a bit shaky and my words don’t always match my lips, but it gives you a different dimension of the presentation. (Those of you who enjoy green screen glitches on Zoom will get a kick watching how the glorious Tasmanian tree I use on the Zoom green screen plays around with my head.)

I presented the original version of Grace, Gravity & Getting Old in person at St. Andrew’s over a year ago on Sunday, May 5, 2019. I also posted it to my blog shortly afterwards. This encore presentation incorporates changes I’ve made in response to COVID-19. It also includes an expanded definition of my understanding of grace. As always, I welcome your comments.

The photos at the end all come from the six weeks Bill and I spent in Tasmania in February and March, 2019. They were part of Tasmanian Grace, an exhibit of my Tasmanian photos at the John M. Parrott Art Gallery in the Belleville Public Library last June. I’m including them because I wrote most of this presentation while we were in Tasmania. I like to think that the spirit of Tasmania reinforces my words.

I hope you enjoy both the words and the photos.

Grace, Gravity & Getting Old
An Encore Presentation by Larry Tayler
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church
Picton, Ontario, Canada
First presented on Sunday, May 5, 2019
ZOOM Version, Thursday, May 28, 2020

I want to start my presentation with a framework metaphor written by the Spanish poet Antonio Machado:

Pathfinder – there is no path.
You make the path by walking.
By walking, you make the path.

Caminante, no hay camino.
Se hace camino al andar.
Al andar, se hace camino.

Pathfinder – there is no path.
You make the path by walking.
By walking, you make the path.

In pre-pandemic days, I am told if you were to walk into a crowded bar in Madrid and loudly proclaim the first line of that poem – “¡Caminante, no hay camino!” – you would be greeted enthusiastically by people in the bar completing the poem, after which you would be given a free glass of wine. And a fine time would be had by all. I’ve never been in Madrid, so I don’t know if that story is true, but I do know that the poem’s wisdom illuminates the heart of what I want to say today. For the power of its metaphor is not just the physical act of walking a path – it is fully realized only in the wider context of the spiritual and emotional journeys that we all undertake, whatever physical limitations we may face.

Pathfinder, there is no path.
You make the path by walking.
By walking, you make the path.

So let’s talk about grace, gravity, and getting old – which is another way of saying, let’s talk about the journey of life in the autumn years. And as Machado alludes to, no matter how many people have made that journey before us, and no matter how much insight we can glean from their wisdom, each of us is ultimately experiencing that journey alone, for the first and only time. We’re making it up as we go along. And we know in advance that we don’t make it out alive. 

My title – “Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old” – comes from the Quaker teacher and philosopher Parker J. Palmer. It is the subtitle of his 2018 book, On The Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity & Getting Old. Parker is best known for his books about spirituality, teaching, and leading a life of integrity. His most popular book, The Courage to Teach, was my introduction to him in the late 1990s. One of my peak experiences was spending a five-day retreat with him in rural Pennsylvania. I still get goosebumps when recalling the humanity, wisdom, and impish delight that Parker brought to our small band of teachers.

Parker turned 80 in February, 2019. To honour this milestone, he wrote the book that inspired this presentation. It’s a meditation on living, aging, and trying to make sense of things. I devoured it within days of its publication in July, 2018, and wrote about it in my blog. Lynne read the blog post and contacted me to see if I wanted to speak about ‘Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old’ at St. Andrew’s. I readily agreed, but said that I wanted time to let the book’s themes percolate through my mind before writing about them. So, most of this presentation was actually written in February, 2019, in a small cabin in Tasmania’s Huon Valley where Bill and I spent five glorious weeks, Bill quilting and bebopping; me writing and photographing. 

When I started writing, I realized that Parker’s book was only the starting point for a wider meditation on my own aging process, my frustrations at the way elders are marginalized in our culture, and my thoughts on how we can shake things up a bit. While most of what I’m saying today was inspired by dear Parker’s book, many of the ideas don’t actually appear in it. If you don’t like the ideas, come see me, not Parker Palmer. And, yes, there will be a call to action at the end.

Let’s take the three elements of the title in reverse order, starting off with ‘Getting Old’.

I’m 73 years-old. My husband likes to say I’m the oldest man he’s ever slept with. He’s 69. Now, I’m learning that in this aging game, there are hierarchies. When I hear 40-year-olds complain about getting old, I roll my eyes and wish I had their knees. When I told my 99-year-old Aunt Jeanne about the topic, she roared with laughter and said, “Aging? What do you know about aging? You’re just a baby.” So, whatever I say today will no doubt provoke eye-rolling from both youngers and elders alike! Here goes anyway.

Yes, at 73, I know my body is aging and changing. My right knee does not always co-operate. My lower back complains when I’ve stood for too long. Or sat for too long. My eye sight is not as sharp as it once was. My reaction times have slowed. My muscle strength has diminished. My digestive tract is not always, um, reliable. My memory for names – never great in my younger days – now requires more ‘scaffolding’. Getting in and out of a low-slung car is no longer graceful. Getting in and out of ANY car is no longer graceful. My hair, what remains of it, can’t support the glorious permed curls of my 30s. I wear sensible shoes with sensible orthotics. And each year, I’m discovering hitherto-unknown sections of the drugstore in search of ointments and assistive devices. I am not alone in this process, and I make no claims to uniqueness, but my experience of that process is distinctly and powerfully my own. 

Now, having listed what I call my ‘GAPS’ – General Aches and Pains – I can also happily report that my iPhone tells me I walked 1,988 km last year, averaging more than 8,600 steps day. I have my own teeth, can handle the 15-hour Air Canada flight from Sydney to Vancouver, read voraciously, play a mean game of Scrabble, laugh uproariously at the slightest provocation, enjoy fart jokes with grandchildren, and generally live life to its fullest, while counting my blessings at each and every turn. I have taken to heart the wise words of my dear late Quaker friend, Muriel Bishop, who, in her mid-80s, encouraged me to always honour my diminishments. Let me repeat that: she encouraged me to always honour my diminishments. She cautioned me to never see my body as the enemy that is somehow letting me down or betraying me. Instead, she lovingly observed her own body, calmly noted its changes, and then got on with whatever adaptations were necessary for staying engaged with the world. Sounds like a pretty good philosophy to me.

With that in mind, let’s move on to ‘Gravity’.

Gravity is one of those words that leads a double life. On the one hand, it is what young Isaac Newton ‘discovered’ when that infamous English apple supposedly fell on his head while he was in isolation from the plague in the mid-17th century. Gravity pulls stuff down. It’s the natural phenomenon that keeps us glued to the surface of this planet so we don’t go flinging off into outer space. And it surely has an effect on our bodies. Think of all those bellies, bottoms, and bosoms that migrate south with the help of gravity over the years. I’m not being judgemental about my body or anybody else’s body – I’m simply looking in the mirror! And consider how much damage gravity can cause your body when you find yourself tripping, slipping, or falling. Finally, think how quickly gravity asserts itself when, perhaps unwisely, you try climbing up the 1,776 steps of the CN Tower. So, it is quite legitimate to talk about the literal effects of gravity when discussing aging.

But the more interesting side of gravity is its metaphysical aspect – its gravitas, which is the Latin root of gravity. It is the wisdom that comes with age and experience. The insights that give elders longer perspectives on life’s challenges. The cumulative effects of an engaged life that instinctively knows “everything old is new again.”  The sense of being grounded, adaptable, and perceptive. 

This, for me, is the Promethean aspect of gravity. Recall the ancient Greek legend of Prometheus – the Titan whose very name means ‘forethought’ – who created humans from clay, who stole the immortal fire from Zeus, and who then gave that fire to humanity for its use. Prometheus is known for his complexity, his rebellious creativity, and his innovation. He suffered grievously for disobeying Zeus, but he stands as a symbol of the power, potential, and heartbreak of being human. He is a figure of gravity and represents the wisdom of lived experience. 

And so, when I talk about gravity, I’m talking about the individual and collective experiences of elders. I mourn the fact that this collective wisdom gets marginalized and dismissed. Unlike many indigenous cultures where elders are venerated and their wisdom is sought out, we live in a culture where elders are seen as a burden, a cost, and an inconvenience. Too often elders are simply put into storage and forgotten. Or even worse, allowed to die alone. Witness the horrors of COVID-19’s impact on long-term care facilities in our country. What an unspeakable waste of humanity and potential. 

But, having said that, I believe that elders must also earn the respect of youngers. They can’t just sit back and expect veneration and privilege to come their way. They have to demonstrate that their wisdom isn’t merely a ‘copy and paste’ of the past, but is a living, breathing, adaptable wisdom that is willing to take risks. That way, elders will earn their way into the dynamic conversations of the day without being dismissed as stodgy agents of the past. In other words, elders need to recast the metaphor of gravity from that which weighs us down to that which holds us together. 

Which brings me to grace, the last and most important element of this presentation. 

Grace is an elegant word that can de devilishly hard to define. Interestingly, despite having used the word in the subtitle of his book, Parker doesn’t fully explain what he means by the word. In theology schools, there are entire academic departments dedicated to defining it and fighting turf wars over it. The Roman Catholic understanding of grace is very different from the Protestant understanding – and I won’t take you down that slippery, angel-strewn path. 

Now, I am not a theologian. A theological enthusiast and Biblical dabbler, yes, but a theologian – no. But here’s my definition of grace, the one I’m operating from in this presentation. Grace is the gentle, powerful fusion of kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and love. I repeat: Grace is the gentle, powerful fusion of kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and love. It is all that is lovely in life. For those with the gift of faith in God, grace is reaching out from that of God within themselves to that of God in others. It becomes the ultimate form of mutuality, understanding, and empathy. 

The theologian Serene Jones says that, “Grace is free; we don’t ‘earn’ it nor are we required to deserve it. That’s what makes grace, grace. It comes unbidden to us all.” I repeat: “Grace is free; we don’t ‘earn’ it nor are we required to deserve it. That’s what makes grace, grace. It comes unbidden to us all.”

The genius of grace, however, is that it does not need a belief in the traditional concepts of God to be a powerful force in our shared humanity. Its very decency and integrity stand on their own as guideposts for our journeys. Now, my personal understanding of grace isgrounded in the belief that God acts within me and through me, but I’m not claiming any exclusivity to the power of grace because of that belief.

So…Grace: Kindness. Compassion. Forgiveness. Love.

I want to tell you about some of the thinkers and poets who have helped shape and challenge my understanding of grace, especially as it relates to the aging process.

Let me first talk about what makes us happy because the case I’m making is that when we treat ourselves with grace, we’re able to extend that grace to the way we treat others. And to treat ourselves with grace, I believe we must have a strong sense of ourselves as being deserving of that grace. Being deserving of that grace implies a sense of self-acceptance and personal happiness with who we are as people. In other words, when we are happy with who we are – and I don’t mean giddy, silly happy here, but deeply, self-respectfully, appreciatively happy – that’s when we can treat others in that same deeply respectful, appreciative way.

The American clinical psychologist Mary Pipher wrote a moving essay in the New York Timeson January 13, 2019, entitled “The Joy of Being a Woman in Her 70s”, which I highly commend. In her essay, Pipher talks about gratitude not being a virtue, but a survival skill. As she says, “…our capacity for [gratitude] grows with our suffering. That is why it is the least privileged, not the most, who excel in appreciating the smallest of offerings.” She maintains that our happiness is built by an attitude of gratitude coupled with a deep sense of intention. Attitude is not everything, she says, but it is almost everything.

Pipher once interviewed the great jazz pianist Jane Jarvis, not long before Jarvis’ death in 2010 at the age of 94. She simply asked Jarvis if she were happy. Jarvis quickly replied, “I have everything I need to be happy right between my ears.”  I repeat: “I have everything I need to be happy right between my ears.” Wisdom for the ages, indeed. 

Pipher follows up with an anecdote about her Aunt Grace, who lived in the Ozarks. Pipher also asked her if she were happy. Aunt Grace’s reply? “I get what I want, but I know what to want.” I repeat: “I get what I want, but I know what to want.” 

It seems to me that these three powerful women – Mary Pipher, Jane Jarvis, and Aunt Grace – offer us much wisdom about the path to personal happiness and grace.

Parker Palmer himself writes in his book about the importance of attitude. He says that he wants to collaborate with his body and his mind during the aging process – he has no interest in defying the process, but wants to work with it. One of his suggestions is to do this:

“…every day, exercise your heart by taking in life’s pains and joys. That kind of exercise will make your heart supple, so that when it breaks – which it surely will – it will break not into a fragment grenade but into a greater capacity for love…[I]f you hold a healthy awareness of your own mortality, your eyes will be opened to the glory and grandeur of life.”

Parker sums up the importance of attitude in creating the kind of self-acceptance and happiness that leads to grace when he quotes the late, wondrous American poet Mary Oliver, who simply says: “[I] instruct myself over and over in joy.” I repeat: “[I] instruct myself over and over in joy.” 

I’ll finish my thoughts on grace by talking about the English poet David Whyte. His thoughts on creating powerful attitudes can teach us so many good and wonderful things about happiness and grace.

Here’s what he said in an interview in December, 2018, with Krista Tippett in the On Beingpodcast – a podcast I highly commend for its weekly infusion of spiritual nourishment:

“The only choice we have as we mature is how we inhabit our vulnerability, how we become larger and more courageous and more compassionate through our intimacy with disappearance. Our choice is to [either] inhabit vulnerability as generous citizens of loss, robustly and fully, or, conversely, as misers and complainers.”

I repeat: “The only choice we have as we mature is how we inhabit our vulnerability, how we become larger and more courageous and more compassionate through our intimacy with disappearance. Our choice is to [either] inhabit vulnerability as generous citizens of loss, robustly and fully, or, conversely, as misers and complainers.”

I find Whyte’s concept of inhabiting our vulnerability to be a powerful agent of grace, a recognition that we must start off by dealing with ourselves gracefully. How can we respond to others in grace if we’re not nurturing ourselves with that same grace? I repeat: How can we respond to others in grace if we’re not nurturing ourselves with that same grace? 

And then there’s Whyte’s recognition that life comes with loss. As we age, we do indeed become intimate with disappearance. How we respond to the disappearances in our lives, however, becomes crucial to our journeys. Do we respond with complaints and negativity, or do we respond with generosity and courage? So at the same time, Whyte understands the physical and emotional realities of our aging selves, while also challenging us to respond to that process with courage and generosity, both with ourselves and with others. 

But Whyte takes the aging process beyond mere acknowledgement and forbearance to a whole new level. Let me quote him again from the same On Being interview:

 “There’s a form of youthfulness you’re supposed to inhabit when you’re in your 70s, 80s, or 90s, It’s the sense of immanent surprise, immanent revelation…the shape of your own absence.” I repeat: “There’s a form of youthfulness you’re supposed to inhabit when you’re in your 70s, 80s, or 90s, It’s the sense of immanent surprise, immanent revelation…the shape of your own absence.”

He then adds, quoting from his poem “Everything Is Waiting For You”: 

“It’s astonishing how much time human beings spend away from their frontiers. The doors have always been there to frighten you and invite you.” I repeat: “It’s astonishing how much time human beings spend away from their frontiers. The doors have always been there to frighten you and invite you.”

So he’s encouraging us to reframe aging as a time of learning, discovery, and delight. Of pushing ourselves through new doorways and exploring evolving understandings of our presence on this planet and beyond. My friend Muriel Bishop, the one who gently encouraged me to honour my diminishments, would have had a deep appreciation for what Whyte is saying. I can only imagine the remarkable conversations that David Whyte and Muriel Bishop might have had! Two deep, loving, questing souls.

Now, in all this talk about courage, grace, and transformation, I also need to touch on fears. Whenever I start a major new project, I buy a journal for recording thoughts, ideas and quotations. Here’s the one I bought for “Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old.” And here on the first page is a Post-It note that simply says, “Fears.” It’s the first note that I made. 

I’m told that the phrase “Do not be afraid” appears in the Bible 366 times. Well, easy for the Bible to say!

I never say to anyone, “Don’t be afraid.” If you’re afraid, you’re afraid. It’s like saying to someone, “Don’t be sad,” “Don’t be angry,” or “Don’t be upset.” If I’m feeling afraid, sad, angry, or upset, THAT’S what I’m feeling! No amount of well-intentioned do-goodery from friends, family, or professionals will change the fact of what I’m feeling, especially when it’s coupled with that rarely-helpful advice to “just get over it – move on!” Or, my favourite, “Don’t be so sensitive, Larry.” ARGH!

Fears I have in abundance – from Tasmanian Tiger snakes to COVID-19. And from developing dementia to what might happen in downtown Toronto if the Leafs ever did win the Stanley Cup again. In virtually any situation, I can come up with a dozen fear-based, wretched scenarios in a nanosecond. And I worry. And I fret. And I stew. My fears may appear baseless to others, but to me, they’re real.

But as with everything else in life, it’s not the feeling, or the situation, or the behaviour that is the issue – crucially, it’s how you choose to deal with it that makes all the difference. It’s that choice – that attitude that Prometheus, and Aunt Jeanne, and Aunt Grace, and Mary Pipher, and Parker Palmer, and Jane Jarvis, and Antonio Machado, and Muriel Bishop, and David Whyte, and Mary Oliver, and Lynne Donovan each illuminates so powerfully. The attitude that looks at a challenging or fearful situation and says, “I will CHOOSE to respond in love, grace, charity, compassion, courage, and dignity. And I will make that choice both in dealing with myself and with others.”  I repeat: “I will CHOOSE to respond in love, grace, charity, compassion, courage, and dignity. And I will make that choice both in dealing with myself and with others.”

And do you know what? We make these choices one unique decision at a time. Inside St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church on January 26th, 2019, when many of us gathered to celebrate Christi Belcourt’s marvellous “Wisdom of the Universe” mural on the exterior wall of the church, Lynne Donovan said, referring to the thousands of painted dots in Belcourt’s mural, “You accomplish things one dot at a time.” I repeat: “You accomplish things one dot at a time.”

That is what I’m asking you to do, to make grace-filled decisions one brave, self-respectful dot at a time. That is the call to action that I talked about at the beginning. I’m calling on you to CHOOSE to respond to yourself and to others with grace, courage, radical hope, and love. As the author Anne Hines says in her beautiful 2005 novel The Spiral Garden about a North Toronto minister who has a spectacularly public crisis of faith, “I think, in the end, I would rather have courage than certainty.” I repeat: “I think, in the end, I would rather have courage than certainty.” 

Let me finish by reading one of my favourite poems by Mary Oliver. It’s called “I WORRIED” and it appears in her 2010 poetry collection, Swan.

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the river
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not, how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

And so, my friends, I encourage you to find and share the wisdom of your stories. I encourage you to find the sacred in your everyday lives and to rejoice in it. I encourage you to be fierce and courageous and outrageous. I encourage you to create your path by walking it. And I encourage you to join Mary Oliver and to go outside and SING!

Thank you.

Fence Detail, Grace's Road, Glaziers Bay

"Coronet Protea," Royal Botanical Gardens, Hobart

Binalong Bay Beach

Cattle Grazing, Grace's Road, Glaziers Bay

Stormy Weather, Sandhill Road, Glaziers Bay

Rugged Shoreline, Mickey's Beach

Eucalyptus Trees, Don River, Devonport

Dog Walkers, "The Gardens," Bay of Fires

Cattle Paddock, "The Gardens," Bay of Fires

Dawn, Grace's Road, Glaziers Bay

Larry Tayler Photography
Belleville, Ontario, Canada