A Thought Provoking Walk

Another lovely weekend done and dusted. I know I “should” have spent the weekend holed up in a library somewhere, but when else am I going to have the chance to walk for 15km in the snow with the company of Maeve? ( I hear you asking “when else will you get the chance to study at McGill?” The worst that happens is I fail… right?)

Whatever. I chose to not think about the rapidly approaching midterms and so Maeve and I caught a bus to St Jerome. Arriving at 3 and the bus to Prevost not scheduled until 4 and costing a hefty $5 (STUDENTS!) we decided to walk the 15km to the house. It was beautiful. Not a cloud in sight, not too cold, probably hovering between -2 and -5, it was mild, and a nicely flattened ski trail to walk along. What was that, walking on the ski trails is illegal? Whoops! Didn’t know that till we got to the house, and we weren’t caught, so no matter! We stopped at Tim Horton’s, hot chocolate and doughnuts and a blast of the spice girls that we sang along to. Then back out into the rapidly gathering dark to continue the walk. We didn’t have torches, but the snow reflected what little light there was and we were fine. Although only walking, we were both knackered, one beer when we got to the house and that was it, energy gone! Luckily it was a quiet group at the house, card games and guitars and flutes and not too much energy expenditure. A scramble onto the roof to dance to the Macarena and look at the stars and worry about falling off happened, complete with handstands on the chimney (not by me I hasten to add! I was struggling with standing on two feet, let alone my hands!), and then the evening ended with a bit of spontaneous swing dancing, which is always a pleasure! And then a lazy working day on Sunday and a ride back into Montreal, arriving feeling recharged and happy.

The walk took 4 hours (including the stop) so Maeve and I had time to cover all sorts of topics of conversation. The one that stuck with me happened just as we were getting to the house. We were talking about the religion class Maeve is taking, and amongst other things, Hasidic Jews. One of the articles she’d read had been about the roles different people play in the community, and how the women are not discontent with the role they have, even though to us it seems completely sexist and restraining. What I gathered was that for them, that was just what they had to do, and questioning it was not something that even crossed their minds, and as a consequence it didn’t occur to them to want anything else. Maeve and I got talking about how difficult it becomes to view it objectively. We have our white, middle class, western ideas about how women should be in society, and as everyone does, we think we’re right! But of course we’re not, we are products of our society, where questioning authority is encouraged (to a certain extent!), where, if you talk to the right people, feminism is something that’s awesome and a battle that isn’t finished, where societal roles are changing and have a certain amount of flexibility. Separating ourselves from that is hard. But unless we can do so, our opinions of anything “other” will be clouded by our ideas of what is right, and “normal” to us.

So, we talked about this, and then grappled with how far this could be taken. In countries where women have little to no rights, we look at the situation and say “how awful”, judging by our standards. We talked about how/if it is ever our right (“our” being western culture generally) to say “you’re being bad!” or whether that is the west asserting itself over people who are perfectly capable of looking after themselves. And perhaps the women haven’t risen up to demand more rights because they’re happy as they are. Or perhaps they’ve not risen up because they’re too scared. In which case, is it for us to march in and take control and tell people how to do stuff? We didn’t know. And then to take it to an extreme, what if mass murder was occurring, but it was something that was traditional and part of the culture. Where does it become ok for an intervention? We didn’t come to any conclusions. I got the impression that had the walk been 100km we’d probably not have been any closer to coming to a conclusion!

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Reflections on an Important Conversation

I’ve had a busy week, so this post is a few days old – it’s taken me a while to get round to re-reading it and checking it’s all ok. We got snow on Friday, it was awesome. The streets that were practically free of snow are now covered, it’s piled up on the sides of the roads and in drifts all over the place. I love it! Also, it’s accompanied by a slight raise in temperature, which is always welcome!

It’s interesting, the things that stand out in your mind. After a hectic weekend of spontaneous clubbing, early morning bus rides, ice hotels, carnivals, beers by open fires in cosy pubs, dancing in the cold and a whole host of other things, the bit that has stayed with me this week is a conversation I had with Manu and Pascale on Sunday evening. Two points specifically.

The first was that Manu suggested that as well as grieving for Ella, I was grieving death itself. This is the first time in my life where shit has really hit the fan, so part of the grieving is also that shit happens. Life isn’t always rosy and just dandy, as it has been till now. Sometimes it sucks, and we’re helpless to do anything about it. I hadn’t thought of it like that. As almost a loss of innocence. It’s stayed with me this week, and when I catch myself thinking of Ella or Brandon (who’s been on my mind a lot. I cooked from one of his recipes yesterday, tasty, but it made me sad) when I’m on the metro or walking between places – that’s when I do thinking – I think about that too. It seems to make sense.

We were also talking about a friend of Manu’s who is a social activist, and who gets around in a wheel chair. At some point in the conversation I said something along the lines of “wow, how inspirational” and Manu stopped me. She pointed out that the activism work that this woman does is inspirational, but the fact that she does it is not. She’s just getting on with her life. It’s very easy when people are not “normal”, and their lives, physically or mentally, are different to the “norm” – whatever that means – to label them as inspirational for getting on with their lives. Manu pointed out that by doing this we define the person by whatever their difference is. It’s stuck with me. Our need to label things is unhealthy and also obstructs what is actually going on, which in this case is some important and much needed social justice work.

Again and again I am reminded how much I value spending time with people older than I am, who have had more time to develop their values, ideas, and opinions on the world we all live in. And how those people challenge me to think more deeply about, not only the world I live in, but the WAY I live in it.

Dear Brandon

So, this one was written way back in December, but for one reason and another it hasn’t quite been the right time to post it. But this morning, this morning I’m missing Brandon. So here it is.

 

Brandon,

I hope you knew quite how much of an inspiration I thought you were. How, when I started my blog, I thought about yours, and your openness. Perhaps ironically, the first post where I was really honest and open about how I was feeling was talking about your death. Unlike the other bereavements recently, I’ve not been able to spend time with others who knew you – who knew your laugh, or who’d tasted your cooking – and it makes bereavement harder I think.

It’s interesting. We didn’t know each other very well. Sometimes I’m surprised by how deeply I feel your loss.

I want to accept this with grace, but I don’t think anyone was ready for you to go, and certainly the world could have done with you shaking things up a little more. I hope that, like you, I can do my best to change the world around the things I feel strongly about, to write honestly and openly, to push boundaries and challenge norms; to not accept injustice and to do what is in my power to put right wrongs.

I hope you know I loved you.
Maya