Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Significant Funeral

I have never liked labor unions.

I say this with some trepidation, because in Windsor, this is not a popular position.

I don't dislike union members. And I certainly don't want to pick any fights. Most of the decent people I know in Windsor are union people.

In short simple terms, I personally believe unions have bloated the costs of products unionized laborers produce. They limit and constrain the ability of a corporation to respond to ever changing global economic conditions. They reduce the ability to reward those who work extra hard, while they protect those whose skills or work ethic are weaker.

It is unquestionable that the former big three Automakers from Detroit are suffering greatly in part because of the tremendous Wages and benefits the United Auto Workers and Canadian Auto Workers unions have negotiated with General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler.

The response that I would get from my union member friends is that the union built Windsor. Windsor would not be the city is today without the union.

My response has always been that while that is true, it would be interesting to have seen how Windsor would have prospered without unionized labor. What niche's would have evolved. What industries? What would the standard of living have grown into Windsor? Because our dependence on unionized automobile manufacturing jobs is not currently boding a bright and hopeful future for the city of Roses on the Detroit river.

But yesterday, I changed my perspective a bit.

Yesterday, I accompanied Darlene to her Cousin Jay's funeral.

It was very sad to lose Jay, who is a small business owner and only one year older than me. I had only met Jay a couple of times, but each time I was always impressed with his positive and enjoyable personality. The sudden illness and death of such a strong and able man leave me to ponder how delicate we all really are.

As Jay was a small business owner, I would never have expected what I saw at that funeral.

When we arrived at the funeral home, the lot was filled with bikes. Choppers not unlike those you see on TV made by Orange County Choppers. "Wow, Jay was a biker?". I asked Darlene.

When we entered, I not only saw bikers, but I also saw a room full of CAW jackets and caps. And I bumped into one of the Union Liaison's at my own company.

"How did you know Jay?" asked Laurie.

"He is Darlene's cousin", I stated. "And you?"

"Why through the Union of course", replied Laurie as if of course I should have known this.

The place was packed, and more walls were opened up and more seats brought in to accommodate the ever growing number of attendees to Jays funeral.

When people had settled and found their places, with Jay's now-closed casket at the front of the room, a coordinator for the funeral home stepped up to the Microphone and announced the first person to speak would be Ken Lewenza, the newly elected national president of the Canadian Auto Workers union.

Now be there no doubt that Mr. Lewenza is a very skilled politician. As fine a speaker as you will find. And as well respected a member of the community as there is in Windsor.

For thirty minutes he stood before that massive assembly , speaking highly of Jay's achievements in various bargaining sessions with the various plants he had worked in, and how after even starting his own small sign business, he still came back to sit at the bargaining table to lead Union negotiations with a new parts plant in town. And he spoke of Jay's great positive attitude declaring everything was fine and that life was good, even after being diagnosed with this his suddenly terminal cancer.

At first I was offended by Mr. Lewenza's apparent hijacking of Jay's service to stand upon his soap box as though it were a union rally. But then as I listened to him speak of Jay, he having known Jay for some time on a personal level, and stating his desire that if he were able, he would clone a million Jays because of how invaluable his contributions were to the Union, to the city, and to his family and friends.

Another cousin of Darlene's was there. Mike is a very prominent Windsor business man, owning a large paving company, and a building developer. He employs hundreds of people in the city of Windsor. And as Mr. Lewenza spoke, I found myself wondering how Mike, an entrepreneur who understands the importance of cost containments as they pertain to the bottom line of a business plan, just to see his reaction. Mike sat there listening. And at certain points he was appreciative. Appreciative of the recognition his cousin was receiving from the highest leader in the land of the Canadian Auto Workers Union.

And at that moment, like the Grinch whose heart grew three inches on Christmas morning, I realized that I was wrong.

Regardless of your political affiliation, or idealisms, your points of view on economic controls, or your political affiliation, at the end of Mr. Lewenza's speech you had to know that Jay would have been very honored to have heard such high praise and distinction from a man he did respect deeply. And to receive such respect from a group he worked so hard for throughout his life.

If the opportunity would have made itself available, I would have sought Mr. Lewenza out to tell him thank you.

I still don't like unions. But now, having returned to Windsor almost nine years ago now, I can say that I do have an appreciation for the level of commitment those who belong to the brotherhood feel. I still believe that this union will one day be the end of manufacturing employment in Windsor – and in Detroit – as they will likely scare away any new manufacturers from considering these areas to build plants and provide good wages.

But I no longer see unions in the belittling manner that I previously did. I better understand the good they have done in the community, the good intentions I believe they strived to realize, and their commitment to grow stronger for what they believe is the good of the community.

But whether it is- in the long run – good for the community remains to be seen. And Windsor may be seeing it sooner than we think.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Mountain That Blocks The Molehill

I would like to think I am an efficient worker.

You know, identify my task, the steps it takes to do the job, acquire the tools I need, and then tackling the task.

But it doesn't always work out that way.

Yesterday, getting ready for today's family Canadian Thanksgiving events at our house, I spent the day doing the fall chores.

The first task on my list was to take the screen out of our outer front door, and replace it with the storm glass door window. When I went into the garage to get my tools and find the glass window insert for the door, I saw everything I need buried under or behind a pile of things that had no business being there.

The tools were buried at the bottom of my garage workbench, covered with papers, toy's, and boxes of things still boxed in the garage since we moved.

The glass window insert was safe against the far wall in the corner of the garage, but now impeding it's access were bags of unused potting soil, boxes of components that when put together are the pump to our recently closed swimming pool, and yet a another collection of boxes from the move – not yet un-packed.

If you neglect to unpack a box after you move, I, in my familiar Georgia speak, refer to that box as "un-unpacked".

As I stood there and looked over this pile of undone work standing before me and the task at hand, I had another one of those de ja vu moments.

When I first met my lovely wife Darlene, she lived in an apartment at the top of an old dilapidated house in the heart of the little town of Amherstburg. During one of my weekend visits, she brought out a new mailbox to hang at her door by her tiny little entrance. And as a test to determine my worthiness as a handy man, she asked if I could hang her new mailbox for her.

She handed me a screw driver, and the nice new plastic mailbox to replace the rusted tin one there now.

"Piece of cake", I said. And I took the screw driver and mailbox package downstairs and out her little private side entrance.

I started by simply removing the existing rusted box from the grungy aluminum siding. I took out the new mailbox from the packaging and held it up in place. Amazingly enough, the screw holes to mount the new box were in the exact same place as the existing holes. No drilling would be required.

"This is too easy", I thought to myself.

But the mailbox looked noticeably new laid over the grunge on the siding. I decided I needed to clean it. Back inside and up the stairs I went to get a bucket of soap and a scrub brush. When I returned, Darlene's neighbor Mike was walking up his laneway and into his house.

"What-cha-up-to Fred?" asked Mike.

"Hanging a mailbox", I said – holding up the box as to prove my task.

So I scrubbed the grunge from the site of the old mailbox. I stood back to examine the area. It was very clean now, but the wall ooked like a big hole of clean in a wall full of grunge. So I cleaned some more.

Paul, Dar's neighbor on the other side of the house came walking down the street.

"What-cha-doin Fred?"

"Hanging a mailbox".

We stood there looking at the clean spot in the wall of grunge.

"Let's get my power washer out" said Paul, and together we marched to his backyard garage to dig out his power washer and some detergent. And we grabbed a beer from his beer fridge.

Guys always have a beer when they are doing yard work together. It's one our 'Man-Laws'.

We were in the process of washing the wall when Mike came back outside and walked over to us. He brought himself a beer, because, well, he saw us working.

"What're you guys doin?" asked Mike.

"Hanging a mailbox" replied Paul.

The wall now looked pristine and proper for a brand new mailbox. We stood back – the three of us, and enjoyed a sip or two of our beers as we examined our accomplishment.

"Wall looks great now" said Paul.

"Yeah, but look at how ugly all these weeds are by Dar's door", said Mike.

We marched together over to Mike's shed and found some spades and a garden rake. We dug the weeds up and raked the ground even. Again we sat back to enjoy our accomplishment with a beer.

"Needs some plants", said Mike.

So we put our beers down and marched through the secret gate Paul built in his backyard fence to the Canadian Tire parking lot behind his house. We marched into the garden centre and after some debate, we picked up some flowers, shrubs and a miniature fir tree. We carted our new garden items back through the secret gate and over to the entrance of Dar's apartment.

We plotted and spaced the flowers, shrubs, and plants out in the area. When all were planted we removed the hose the from the power washer and soaked the beds so the plants could take hold.

"Looks great", I stated.

"We have a lot of flowers left over", said Mike. There sat three trays of Impatients that we had yet to even get to.

"You know, those would look great over here", said Paul – pointing to an area around a young elm tree in the walk way area.

"And over here", said Mike – pointing along the front of a old wooden fence that divided the front and back yards.

So we dug and we planted and we raked and watered. And another hour later we had created two beautiful little gardens. And we had consumed about three beers each.

"Hey, I still have to hang that mailbox", I said. I walked over, picked up the screwdriver, the two screws that came with the mailbox, and mounted it.

We were sitting in the shade of the elm tree between our two new gardens when Darlene's voice was heard through the upstairs window.

"Did you hang that mailbox yet?", she hollered.

"Yep, come see", I hollered back.

"It's just a mailbox", came her reply. And back she went to whatever she was doing.

"She has to come down soon", I said. "If for nothing else, to see what no-good we're up to".

So we sat there talking guy stuff, on the cool grass of the shade of the tree and drinking a couple more beers – waiting for Dar to come down to see her surprise.

That was such a great afternoon. I do miss Mike and Paul as they were both in our wedding party when we finally got married. And I wonder what they are doing these days, as we left Amherstburg shortly after our youngest daughter was born.

So I spent yesterday moving and sorting re-piling all the contents of my garage and my workbench. And then I wrestled and swore while I replaced the screen door with the storm glass insert.

And when I was done, the door screen replaced with the winter glass, and my garage pristine for the first time since we moved into the house, I cracked a nice cold bottle of beer and looked at my accomplishment.

And I thought how much better the beer would taste if only Mike and Paul were there to enjoy it with me.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Just because I don’t go to church does not mean I do not believe in God.

Just because I don't go to church does not mean I do not believe in God.

I think this is a fairly common approach these days to faith.

There are those who believe that church is the foundation to faith.

And there are those who believe that there is no God.

And somewhere in the middle there are those who – as I just stated – believe but do not think the answers are to be found in cathedral and read from a book.

Well, I honestly do not mean to state this so dismissingly. The book is the Bible, or the Koran, or whatever other doctrine may be held up as indisputable truth.

So I really should capitalize the "B" in Book.

And I do not write this lightly. I do not state this mockingly, nor with any meaning of malice or contempt.

If I were to be measured my position between two sides of the spectrum, faith or atheism, I am certain I would be placed much closer to the side of faith.

"Then why don't you go to Church?" you might ask.

I have gone to church in my days. Many different churches actually. Like many of you, I have gone to listen and to try to objectively discern what it is that I believe. My faith is to the extent that I do know that God is there. And I do know that God is a compassionate, loving, completely objective deity.

God – in my faith – does not choose sides.

He does not choose sides in times of war. He does not answer one person's prayer to be chosen over another. All – in my faith – are God's children.

Even the atheist

And in every church I have gone to, I have always felt that the person standing before and speaking from the Book, is actually trying to sell their faith to me.

The person standing before me has devoted a great deal of time and consideration to their own exploration of their church. At least most of the time, anyway. And I do not belittle that commitment in any way. But I know this person before me is only another person of flesh and blood. And their conviction to what is true – for as strong and devoted as it may be – is their faith – and their opinion.

Let me try to put it this way.

Think of a person that you know. A person known by many in your social circle. Think about how you feel about this person. List out twenty or so attributes of this person on a sheet of paper.

Then think of those in your circle who also know this person very well. And put yourself in each of those other person's shoes – look through their eyes – and try to think what attributes they may see in this same person. Do that several times over for others in the circle – then compare your lists.

The lists will be different.

Each of those eyes you looked through will have had different experiences with this person. Some good. Some bad. The positive and negative experiences they have had with this person will be different.

Experience is what shapes our opinion. And in my thinking, experience is the most influential definer of faith.

Now think how differently each of those people's experiences with God must be. Because God is so much closer and in one's own heart. Those experiences each shaped their faith in God. Some in disappointment, some in appreciation, some in love and devotion. Some in betrayal.

Because – in my own personal opinion – a God who loves everyone equally cannot please everyone He loves.

And as that person stands before me and reads from the Book, and talks about what each sentence means – I realize that this is what that sentence of the Book means – to them. Some have been taught this is what it means. Others have come to their own conclusion as to its meaning. And some will question what it means.

My Dad taught me as a boy that faith is very important. But how that faith is to be defined is up to me. That I can strengthen my faith anywhere. At home, in my car, at the office sitting at my desk. And that there is risk in the formal accommodations of a cathedral or Church setting. Because the underlying foundation in faith is confidence.

And the formal setting of church is as likely to shake one's confidence in their faith as it is to reinforce it.

So what do I believe? My faith is pretty simple actually.

I believe that there is indeed a deity greater than us. And as I said – He is loving, kind, compassionate. And He loves all of us exactly the same. And that in return for all that He has provided us – all He asks in return is that we do our very best.

Be honest.

Be kind.

Be generous.

Be of service to your fellow man.

Do not take advantage of others misfortunes to profit.

Be understanding.

Be fair.

And be sincere.

Sound familiar?

Imagine if before each action we could take, we could consider these eight points. Our resulting action would have to meet the criteria of these points. Imagine if everyone else did the same.

There would be no bigotry.

There would be no contempt.

There would be no hatred.

There would still be differences of opinion. There would still be diversity in our approaches to life. But there would be no indignation towards others.

And in my own personal opinion – I believe that the great prophets of history were trying to express these same principles. But those that heard the message interpreted it to be a threat to whatever power they held. Perhaps because it was simply inconvenient. Or perhaps because these principles contradict the means by which they reinforced their power.

And in my opinion – this is where the multitudes of division came from to give us the vast array of religions we have today. Each taking a slightly different slant on each of those eight points. And to reinforce their power they insisted that to deviate from their slant will condemn you to an eternity in most horrific prison – hell.

Personally, I do not believe that when we die, we go to heaven or hell. That these are simply tools to restrict our freedom of thought by promising us what is truly the greatest unknown. What happens to us after we die. "If you do like I say, you will live in a glorious after-life", is the promise – much like the promise that a parent will make to their children that a great education will being a bliss full adulthood. "But should you stray from this instruction – you will be condemned to the most horrid existence – forever – with no chance for reprieve".

It seems so childish to me when I put it in these terms. And destructive.

And manipulative.

I believe we make our own heaven and hell here on earth. Simply by the principles we follow. And our hearts commitment to those principles. If a strong principle belief is that you should be rich, yet you life in poverty, your greed shall condemn you to the hell of your failure to achieve wealth. Should you realize you are happy without the wealth – you will suddenly be free of your burden, and achieve a level of peace you might consider to be heaven.

Will I encourage my two little girls to go on to get higher levels of education? Of course I will, because my experience has shown me their opportunities will be much greater if they can achieve such a goal. But it does not mean they will be condemned to a life as a fast order chef if they don't. And they may be well and happy as a short order chef.

I will encourage my daughters to believe in what they want to believe. And I will try to explain the eight principles I listed above. And I will try to show them by my own example. Although at times my example will fail.

Because I love my little girls with all my heart. Equally. Like my Father did my brother Paul and me. Like I think God loves us all.

And I think the God I have put my faith in leads by the best example anyone could follow.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Test Of The Broken Mirror

I'm not a superstitious person.

Except for sports. Because there is no rhyme or reason to sports sometimes. So maybe the pair of shorts I wear will have an influence on the outcome of the Tiger's game.

But of course it won't.

But then again, nobody wants bad luck. I don't. You don't. If you can rationally make a case to do things that might make your luck better, you will probably adopt that case as a rational.

My lovely wife Darlene found a fantastic deal on a professional set of hair cutting tools. Shavers, trimmers, clippers, and scissors. It even had a cape like the barber will put over you.

But it didn't come with a fancy chair. Or a mirror.

Last night, I dragged my poor wife out to the garage, set up a wooden chair from our kitchen dinette set, and I grabbed a cheap plastic cased mirror from the bathroom.

And I pretty much forced her to cut my hair.

So Darlene shaved, and clipped, and trimmed, and snipped, and several hours later she was very proud of the job she did.

Darlene is not a professional hairstylist. In fact her bad back and failing thumbs actually proved to be quite an obstacle for her to overcome.

So I held up the little plastic mirror periodically, and exclaimed each time that she did a great job.

And she did.

Our two little girls came out to see what was going on as we were finally finishing up. And they were quite impressed also.

So we packed up the shaver kit, brushed up the loose hair, grabbed the wooden chair and the plastic cape, and we headed into the house.

"You forgot the mirror, Daddy!" said little Ashley-Rae, who still can't say her R's. "Mirror" came out like "meewer".

"Please grab it, sweetheart", I replied. "But be careful, we don't need seven years bad luck".

As the door started to close on Ashley-Rae stepping through, the mirror hit the ceramic tile in the foyer. And it broke into several large pieces.

Well, poor Ashley-Rae started screaming and crying as loud as if she were just told she could never watch TV again.

"I don't want seven years bad luck, Daddy, I am so sorry!" she said between loud slurping gasps of tears and screams. "I'm so sorry, I wrecked it! Now we won't have a house and we will have to live in the street!", she continued.

We picked up the glass so nobody would step on it and we threw it away. Then we picked up Ashley-Rae. And we tried to explain to her what a superstition is. That it's just a make believe thing. That everything will be ok.

And she finally settled down.

But there is still this little thing in the back of our minds that urks us. That's what's wrong with superstitions. If you think of it hard enough, bad luck will come.

This morning our alarm clock didn't go off.

Bad luck? Maybe.

But luckily Alannah just woke up, and she woke us all up.

Lucky? Maybe.

I guess we can say we are not superstitious, but the test is when you break a mirror.

And by the way, Ashley-Ray had her first cavity filled today.

And she thought it was fun.

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