Thursday, August 26, 2010


This is the post that two days ago I mentioned I might write.  You see, today one of my cats died.  It wasn't totally unexpected; she was about fifteen years old and her health went into a sudden decline early last month.  Though she'd visibly been very strong and healthy before that, she was transformed into a bedraggled shadow of her former self.  She was barely eating, didn't drink a whole lot, and was suddenly moving very slowly.  She stopped grooming herself and her long hair grew matted.  And even though we tried to help her to get better—the vet gave her an antibiotic which seemed to help for awhile, and her health did improve for a bit—she kept on getting worse and worse.  We initially scheduled her for that dreaded final vet's appointment last week, but she perked up at the last minute (she even ate a little without us having to liquefy it and feed it to her with a dropper); we knew it was final days by that point, but since she'd started showing interest in the rest of the world again, it didn't quite seem right to take her out of it yet.

Such was not the case today.  She could hardly walk; she more dragged herself around than anything, and since we couldn't even feed her with the dropper anymore because she fought us and started bleeding from the mouth when we tried, she hadn't actually eaten in two days.  (The appointment was supposed to be yesterday, but the vet had to postpone it—and we had another unexpected day with our poor kitty.)  Between the knowledge that she was going to die soon and the stress of having not one, but two, euthanization dates scheduled and then postponed, I've been in a state of constant grief for about two weeks, even though the one I was grieving for still lived and breathed until this afternoon.  It's been exhausting.  I've cried more in the past two weeks than I think I have since my maternal grandfather died.

And now that she's gone, I feel at once empty and full of sorrow.  She was a big part of my life for many years; she was a stray, dumped somewhere near my home about thirteen years ago, and although she was fed by several other people in my neighbourhood before she came to us, the moment we met there was an instant bond.  She was my cat; I was her person.  That was it.  She wandered off for a month or two in the summer for several years, but she always came back—and when she was here, she always followed me like my own shadow.  Finally, about seven years ago, she returned to us later than usual and we decided to keep her in the house full-time from that day forward.  She never set foot outdoors again—and was, I must say, very happy to keep it that way.

She died at roughly 2:30 this afternoon, and only a few hours later, it still seems a bit unreal, even though I did bury her on a hill in my admittedly large backyard, very close to the spot where we first met (and near where two of our other cats, both kittens of hers, are buried).  I'm in my bedroom; she rarely followed me in here.  (I love my cats, but I do find it a bit difficult to get a good night's sleep when I'm constantly being walked on.)  It would be so tempting to pretend that as soon as I left the room, I'd see her curled up on the little velvet-covered stool that we put right beside a window that gets lots of sunshine.  But thinking like that isn't healthy, and it prolongs mourning in the long run—I know this from experience.  It just seems strange to know that yes, she really is dead.  And even though my pain caused by her illness and death is still strong and in some ways only beginning, at least her suffering is over.

Now, as a Pagan and as a Christian, I do believe in an afterlife.  I even have some hope of seeing those who I loved during their lives again—provided that they haven't reincarnated yet, of course.  (One of my other cats—one who died last year—still seems to be with us, by the way; often I'll feel a cat jump onto my bed, but not actually see one.  My mother says the same thing happens to her at times.)  But the separation now is so painful.  I have been preparing myself for this practically since she first got sick; in fact, for the last two years I've been telling myself that every day we had with her was a bonus and a blessing because her life had already extended past a cat's usual life expectancy.  Still, the finality of it—or "finality for now", if you like—is just so heartbreaking.  She was, though not a human, one of the best friends I've ever had.

Although I've been my typical verbose self in this post, I'm not sure how much I'll feel like writing in the next few weeks.  Experience tells me that inspiration may not come easily while I'm still in this stage of grief.  So if posting is even more slow than usual for the next while, this is why.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The World's Oldest Profession

They say that prostitution is the world's oldest profession.

Whether or not that's true, four of its practitioners in my hometown—as well as many of their clients—were arrested last week.  (Somewhat unusually, the johns were held up for as much public disgrace as the prostitutes; their names were published by several news sources.)  There's been a fair amount of pearl-clutching in the media and in the general public, and though there are also several people who are saying that it's time to do something more sensible and productive about the whole thing than just toss everybody involved in jail, the prevailing sentiment seems to be, "EWWW!!! PROSTITUTION!!!  They're all drug addicts!  They're too lazy to get real jobs!  Good girls don't do that!"

Good girls don't do that.

No censure directed towards the men who paid for sex with these women.  (And all of them were men; most of them were middle-aged, but there were a few seniors on the list, and only one of the arrested men was under the age of 38.)  No acknowledgement that no matter how well-educated or well-qualified for jobs you are, you may not actually be able to find employment.  (Even Dr. Roberta Bondar, known for being the first Canadian woman in space, had trouble finding work a few years after her famous flight on the Discovery.)  No acknowledgement of the fact that, as a recent Dinosaur Comic says, SHIT GOES FOUL sometimes no matter how well you plan.  It's all put on their shoulders.  And they're the ones blamed for hurting families, for bringing down the tone of certain neighbourhoods, for being such WORTHLESS DAMN DIRTY WHORES.  Apparently the men who paid for sex with them are completely blameless in the whole thing.  (I call bullshit.)

Few people think about the ones who didn't want to have to choose this way of life.  Fewer still think of the danger that these women are put into each and every night, whether or not they want to be there.  And very few people indeed think about why such a profession might be appealing to some women (or men, though the prostitutes arrested here were all female), except to look down on them like they're lower than the dirt on the bottom of their shoes.  It's the same privileged attitude expressed by the male speaker in a song that was popular about nine years ago, "What Would You Do?" by City High.  It's your fault.  Stop making excuses.  Get a real job. Good girls don't do what you're doing.

It sounds familiar.  It ought to; it's a criticism that people have thrown at those they perceive to be less-fortunate than they are for eons.  I got mine.  Screw you if you haven't got yours, you're probably just too lazy to go out and get it anyway!

Such a wonderful, compassionate worldview.  It's so fantastic that, although I am nonviolent by nature, every time I hear someone being so smug and self-righteous, I want to kick their ass.

You know, strictly speaking, prostitution itself is legal in Canada.  It's just that there are laws in place that make it illegal to actually do anything about it regardless of whether you're the prostitute or the john.  Theoretically, I'm not completely against the idea of allowing prostitution—but regulated, please.  Protect the workers and the customers.  And for Gods' sake, don't treat the sex workers as if they're dirty, shameful homewreckers.  If a home's being wrecked, it's the fault of the people who live there.  And don't tell me that you don't have to have compassion for them because of your religious values.  What kind of value is there in a belief that you're entitled to treat people like dirt just because you don't approve of them?

I'd muse about how the way prostitutes are treated by the media and the general public is indicative of the number of sexist attitudes, privileged attitudes and attitudes that state that "no matter how private you think it is, your sexuality is totally my business" that are widely embraced in Western society today, but quite frankly, this post is already very long and I'm too tired and stressed to bother with that kind of analysis at this point (and I think you'll probably find out why in an entry I'm sure I'll write tomorrow).  So I think I'll just leave you with a video of the song referenced earlier in this post:

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Proselytizers Embarrass Me, Part II

Remember that little rant I wrote about how for the most part, proselytizers embarrass me? The general idea was that their lack of respect for other people and their right to believe (or not believe) as they choose really gets up my nose.

The same goes for atheist proselytizers.

I mean, come on. So you don't like religion? Don't practice one. Telling people who are spiritually and/or religiously inclined that they shouldn't hold the beliefs that they do just because you don't approve is every bit as arrogant as any Christian proselytizer who tells non-Christians (or Christians from other denominations, for that matter!) that they're going to Hell if they don't convert. By all means, believe that there is no God or afterlife. Just don't try to annoy me, or anyone else who isn't atheistically inclined, into becoming an atheist. It's irritating, conceited and just plain disrespectful.

Mind you, I do disagree with folks like David Clarke (who is quoted in the Tampa Bay Online article) who believe that without belief in God, life has no meaning and real morality is impossible. My own personal experience disproves that. I've known several atheists over the years, and many of them have been among the kindest, most genuine people I've ever known. Morality is indeed very possible without any deity-centred view of the world; sometimes I think that it may even be more genuine than the morality of many believers, because there really is no extrinsic motivation to "be good"—there's no threat of Hell or promise of Heaven after this life is done. I just happen to think that there's plenty of room in this big, weird, messed-up world of ours in which people of various faiths and people with no faith can coexist peacefully. We just need to learn that our own beliefs (and rights) do not trump other people's and learn to act accordingly—i.e., not being a jerk to people with different beliefs and opinions.

Yeah, I'm not holding my breath for that one either.

Still, I've got to hope. That's really kind of what I'm all about, after all. If I—an extremely confused and very surprised Christo-Pagan—can manage to peacefully coexist with people who hold different beliefs from mine (and it would be difficult to come up with anyone who believes in exactly what I do, believe me), then certainly other people can, too. Even hardcore atheists and committed Jews/Buddhists/Pagans/Hindus/Muslims/Sikhs/Christians/Pastafarians etc. can get along as long as there's an attitude of mutual respect—which, by the way, would include thoughtful debate, and not arguments about why Belief X is Ridiculous and Everyone Should Subscribe To Belief Y.

It isn't easy. The egotism that facilitates the attitude that "My Way Is Better Than Your Way, No Matter How Well Your Way Works For You" seems to be awfully seductive. Who doesn't like to believe that they're right, after all? And arguing seems to be as hard-wired into humanity's essence as the tendency to have opposable thumbs. But as annoying as the proselytizers from any group can be, I do hope that someday the various spiritual and non-spiritual groups in the world will stop trying to shout each other down and actually try not to be such arrogant assholes to each other.

In the immortal words of Red Green, "Remember, I'm pulling for you. We're all in this together."

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Conversation With An Evangelist Nearly A Decade Ago

Lately I've been thinking about some of the things that have set me on the spiritual path I'm now on. The incident I'm about to describe happened when I was eighteen and had considered myself a Pagan for about three and a half years; even so, I sometimes think that it affected my current views on spirituality every bit as much as the realization that I could no longer in good conscience consider myself a Roman Catholic.

Back when I was eighteen, Ontario students generally had five years of high school, not four. The fifth year was known as "OAC" and it was actually optional; it was for the students who decided they'd go to university, rather than go to college (yes, there is a difference in Canada) or enter the military, learn a skilled trade or go straight into the workforce. In my first semester of my OAC year, I took an English course; we were to do an independent study project that we were supposed to work on throughout the term. Mine happened to be about religious tolerance; I suppose it's fairly self-evident why I chose that topic, but I didn't just focus on Christianity vs. Neopaganism. I also did research on other religions and the conclusions that I drew through my research have actually stayed with me all these years later; I realized that in the end, most of us are looking for the same thing anyway, and our different religions are simply different expressions of our quests for enlightenment. The details can cause a hell of a lot of trouble, of course, but that's the general idea—as I understand it, anyway.

All that aside, I did a lot of research over the few months I had to develop this large project. One afternoon in mid-October, I was down at the public library; I'd just completed a long research session and checked out about ten books that I hoped would be helpful. As I sat outdoors, waiting for my mother to come pick me up (I didn't really drive on my own until I was 21), I idly leafed through a few pages in a book about various Christian denominations. I saw this guy, probably about 22-ish, in a mid-length brown coat heading into the library, carrying a book that I presumed he was returning; he bounded up the step in front of the library door with a loud "Hallelu-YAH!" Slightly amused, I turned back to my book—which happened to be open to a chapter on evangelism. The man came out of the library again a few minutes later and walked up to me, asking me, "Are you born again?"

"I beg your pardon?" (Yes, I really was that formal when I was a teenager. And yes, I have lightened up a bit.)

"Are you born again?" he asked a second time.

"I'm not quite sure what you mean—I'm Catholic," I said. I knew I was setting myself up for a lecture, but I couldn't help myself. Fortunately, I was wrong; the two of us had a fairly interesting conversation, though I did think he was taking things a little far sometimes (particularly with his great dislike of Hallowe'en and a one-man protest he told me he conducted every year outside a "Haunted House" for kids). I didn't get the sense that he was particularly dangerous or creepy, but I did decide to be discreet about my Paganism, hence my statement that I was Catholic. Sometimes the good old "smile and nod" approach really is the best way to deal with a situation.

We talked religion for probably about ten minutes before my mother arrived, and I was actually a little disappointed when it was time for me to go. But just before I left, he said something that, despite the bitterness I still felt against my former spiritual path, made (and still makes) a tremendous amount of sense to me. He told me, "God is more than just religion. He's more than ceremonies and even more than His word in the Bible. Don't be afraid to run, jump, or sing in His name. You can even turn cartwheels if you feel like it. He is the essence of joy and love."

I think it's pretty obvious that I (inwardly) disagreed with him about a lot of things that he said that day, but I couldn't possibly disagree with that. And even though a lot of my spiritual opinions and beliefs have changed—sometimes very dramatically—over the past decade, this is one thing that's remained constant. There's more to spirituality, even one that's centred around a deity, than just texts and rituals and dogma. Without that spark of love and joy, it's not quite right. It's something that you go through by rote, sometimes impressed by the general look and feel of things, but not something that really reaches out and touches you and inspires you to be a better person.

In the end, that really is why I believe it's possible for me to be both a Pagan and a Christian. I've no doubt the man I talked to that day nearly ten years ago now would be incredibly scandalized and even angry that his comment helped to set me on the spiritual path I now follow; nonetheless, I do feel somewhat grateful to him for that particular revelation, and I hope that since then, he too has managed some kind of spiritual growth.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

*nods head in approval*

I admit that I don't tend to follow current trends in music, pop culture or the like as closely as most people do. It's not that I'm one of those culture-snobs who think that nothing worth seeing/listening to has been invented since 1899; it's just that a lot of my spare time is dedicated to singing various flavours of older music, doing a lot of writing and figuring out how to turn myself into a useful and productive member of society without submitting to the abuses that come with being an inhabitant of Call Centre Hell. If you want information about the latest trends, never ask me.

That said, I've become something of a Lady Gaga fan in recent months. Her music is generally fairly catchy, she's got a decent voice and the lyrics to her songs are generally more clever than what you might expect from a pop/dance artist, especially in recent years. And I freely admit that I like a number of the things she's done in public as well; when she does things like this, I can't help but approve.

Sometimes a boycott is the best possible action—the boycott of certain hotels as a protest in favour of workers' rights comes to mind, and not just because of their partial filk of "Bad Romance"—but in this case, it could easily have been taken as just another missed show. In stating outright that she disapproves, and by perhaps using her show to help make people aware of exactly how harmful Arizona's new immigration law is in spite of the changes that were made to it before it came into effect, I think she's doing a good thing.