Life is about making mistakes. Well, maybe not about making them, but they happen. I've made peace with that. Occasionally, I have really good days when I make good decisions in anticipation of the mistake it would be if I made another choice, hard decisions that are not efficient in terms of short term gain or ease, but rather work only when I measure in terms of how I want to look back on my life when I get to the end of it.
I was thinking about this concept on Saturday, both in personal and in societal terms, when I drove to Vancouver to participate in the CAPP solidarity march and protest demanding a full public inquiry in into the recent G8/G20 summit in Toronto. It was my own little thematic idea-track providing a context and mood to the day. I create these thematic playlists most days and, when the 'theme music' is good, when I can feel the kick drum, move with the syncopation, and lean into the melody and harmonies, I find myself edging into a sense of serendipity that I can only compare to good days in front of the keyboard clicking out the imaginary lives of the characters in my novel. It's a feeling of connectedness, something that approaches Epiphanical ecstasy at times, a dance of endorphins that makes everything feel just alright, if you know what I mean.
On these days, whether the insights feel optimistic or the clarity only provides confirmation for my pessimism, I feel like I'm in touch with something bigger. I don't attribute it to god or the universe. I know it's just a trick of biochemistry and psychological alignment, but I also don't care how or why. It's a powerful sensation and I'll take it any way I can get it.
I spent the morning walking through the Woodlands Memorial Garden. Woodlands Provincial Asylum for the Insane was an institution that operated between 1913 and 1996. At its peak it housed over 1250 people, many of whom died while incarcerated at the facility. Ideas regarding the developmentally challenged evolved a great deal through those years, but they were never really enlightened, even through the '80's and '90's when Woodlands was winding down and hundreds of patients were released without placement or support into the community. The impact on Vancouver's homeless population was enormous.
A plaque in the memorial states: “The memorial sculpture, Window Too High, represents the barred windows of the original Woodlands building that were set so high that the residents could not see out of them.” Over 300 people died while residing at Woodlands between 1920 and 1958, and were buried on the grounds. Later renovations actually desecrated these graves by using granite marker stones for patio and BBQ installations. In '99 the Memorial Garden was created and over 200 stones, only a portion of those removed, were reclaimed. Missing stones have been replaced with new plaques to commemorate and respect those that were once buried here. Only nine original graves survived the desecration. They are described as “silent sentinels” over this place that has been, in some small measure, reclaimed.
I was immediately struck, in light of that thematic sub-beat that was running through my head, by the dissonant irony that we seem to place so much emphasis on making things right in retrospect when we were (and are) so eager to participate in the desecration in the first place. I wondered how it was, in the '70's, that anyone thought it would be okay to use those stones to build patios? I wondered what failure of foresight could have justified such insensitivity.
Today, I wonder what can justify the failure of foresight we continue to practice, as individuals and as a culture, every day of our present. How do we not learn, when we are so often faced with the social and political necessity of reparation and reconciliation, to avoid the kind of callous disregard for each other that spawns the need for such campaigns of atonement?
I carried this feeling of intense species-shame into the afternoon and the protest. It seems like such a small thing to join with a couple hundred other people to walk three blocks chanting and shouting, sharing our communal outrage over the suspension of civil liberties that took place in Toronto during the weeks leading up to and through the G8/G20. A friend asked, very legitimately, “Does this really do anything?”
I found myself pondering again and again how it was that so many ISU officers thought it was okay to kick and beat people? How could McQuinty's cabinet enact the Public Protection Act with such cavalier disregard for the people they were elected to serve and then participate in the lies regarding its scope? How can Harper so consistently snub his arrogant nose at the Charter that his government is sworn to uphold? These are human beings, after all, whether that fact is always easy to remember or not in the midst of my frustration. They should be driven by the same basic understanding of respect and empathy as I am. We should all share a desire to see all people living with dignity. Is that such a radical concept?
How is it that, as a species, whether in the realm of politics, industry, finance, consumption, renewability, health care, or any of the other spheres in which we act with such short-sightedness, we seem to continue to make the same mistakes? How do we still justify decisions made in the interest of short-term profit or ease when the the obvious consequences loom at us over the horizon of tomorrow? Is our sense of duty to the future still so myopic that we think, “Oh well, fuck tomorrow. Our kids can put up a memorial one day. Let's make money and accumulate stuff while the sun shines”?
Yes, it is. That's exactly what's wrong. In our apathy or our sociopathic greed, we let these things happen. We have to own this, all of us. Getting past the self-inflicted denial is the first step.
In answer to my friend's question I had to admit that, in and of itself, the impact of the march on Saturday is marginal (especially when the mainstream media has admitted that they no longer desire to cover the G20 story and didn't even deign to send a single reporter to cover it).
But it does make a difference. After all, she came even though she hadn't heard about the march until I asked her to keep me company. We listened and learned together, shouted “shame” again and again as the three witnesses to the Toronto actions told their stories, listened to the social and NGO leaders and politicians, chanted our affirmations that, yes, this was what democracy looked like. We participated, as did the others, and the weight of our angst filled the street and Victory Park in its small way. Better that we were witness and remembered than that no-one did. Better to light a single candle, and all that, not giving into the apathy that seems to typify our culture. It is a big thing. And we were part of that.
We were part of saying that we will weigh our actions and their consequences in advance and with foresight. We will act in such a way as to not require memorial gardens one day to ease our shame. We will own it now, today, and make choices in hope of a better world and a kinder way of living. We will do this for ourselves and for our children and for theirs.
One day, maybe, our children's children will have better things to do than make up for our mistakes...