Friday, June 5, 2015

An Unexpected Scale

No, I'm not talking about the one in my bathroom that never forgives me for my late-night cheese-binges.

I mean a scale of the interpersonal kind, the sociological kind.

not this kind.

this kind.

I grew up in the suburb of a fairly ethnically amorphous city. Neither of my parents were from there; I was not born there, only my younger brother was. My mother, although born in Nova Scotia, grew up in New Brunswick and was still very close to her parents. My father was born in Toronto, and was not very close to his mother (his dad having died decades before I was born). My mother's parents remains are laid to rest in the great city of St. John. My other grandparents? I couldn't tell you where are buried. My father has no grave.

Obviously, none of this struck me as odd ever, although I could tell it strikes my best friend, Peter, as odd; he merely tolerated my lack of interest in my lineage, etc. Peter has been my friend despite my disregard for his interest in things like this, I mean heredity, heritage, etc. And then I went and moved to a place like Barry's Bay. It took about eight years, though, for me to realize that one's family roots and place of origin could be important to oneself. Bear in mind, I still live away from my mother and brothers and have no hard intention to move back there. Nevertheless, you can't live here for close to a decade and not absorb something of the details of the history of the place.

This year was our parish's hundredth anniversary.

This year the longest-serving pastor of St. Hedwig's marked 60 years of priesthood.

Last night I read 3/4 of a book on the history of the Murray Bros. lumber company. (Why? That's a story for another time.)

I walk, jog and cycle by a graveyard that has the same dozen last names on the markers. The same ones appear on most of the street names too, on many of the companies in town as well.

Now, being that I do a little work at Madonna House (also a story for another time), I drive by a cemetery that houses the remains of the great Catherine Doherty, and many of the other notables of that holy organization, including a woman whom I got to know in the winter before she died, Mamie Legris. I am expecting that another woman I know there will soon be joining the number interred in Combermere.

There is something about living where your dead are.

I grew up with the Platonic notion (thanks to Star Wars) that we are not our bodies, but our souls. A Catholic cannot really maintain that.

Should I work towards that for my kids, that is to say, a homeland? Have the people of this area in which I live been privileged to share in something that I never even realized was a blessing, was even a thing at all?

Roots. We have no roots anymore. And what does this cost us?

Can we really know who we are without knowing what came before us?

An example: a young couple gets married today. What do they model their marriage after? They often act as if they are the first people to ever undertake this unprecedented thing.

Thanks to the global aspirations of liberalism, we are so concerned with the global human community, and care not a fig for our local community, our specific traditions. Liberalism, socialism and capitalism are all of one mind on this one. They are all trying to design one product to corner a total market share. What does this create? For instance, since 9/11, with the thousands of news reports and articles I have read on Islam, I know that I have not gotten a whiff closer to knowing what Islam really is. I know what liberals want me to think it is, what conservatives want me to think it is, but not what it actually is. I haven't spoken to any legitimate Algerian Muslims. Will I? Should I?

Bruce Jenner is not a member of my family or neighborhood - so what do I care what he does with his life? But we do care. We care about celebrities who have nothing to do with us, and yet we consider it rude to ask our neighbor where she is going today. That's rude!?

I should take marital advice from my parents, my in-laws, my neighbors whom I've known since childhood. Most of that advice would be of the unspoken kind: it's called observation. I should not take it from anyone on television. I have never met them; how could I trust that they walk the walk? They don't know me and what I am like, where my wife has 'come from', etc. And yet for some reason you want me to hear what Elton John has to say about marriage?

We can't blindly adhere to the mos maiorum (the ways of our elders), but it is a good place to start. These are the people most like us who have done it all before us.

I've recommended this movie to my Facebook friends, but I now do the same for you. Of Shakespeare's plays it's not one of the more popular today. (I am sure there is an important fact underlying this neglect.) If you read the parts of Livy's History upon which the play is based, you will soon realize that this is a story about a man who would not get with the times, who was stuck in the past. Something about that appeals to me. I also like a man who is stubborn to a fault. A tragic figure who suffers because of his great fault. In his case pride. A splendid vice indeed, says Augustine! (One can admire something without wanting to emulate it.) Better than wallowing in filth I guess... but I digress.

In sum, the world would be a much better place if we ignored what everyone else in the world was up to and figured out who we are meant to be. Nationalism is not of God; a fortiori globalism is not either.

We are taught to think that the lives and traditions of dead white Christians were and are despicable and that all local peculiarities exclude others. I would suggest, to the contrary, that everyone is excluded when local customs are marginalized, because then, what are we? Nothing more than what ideologues and advertisers want us to be. After all, nature abhors a vacuum and Apple, Upworthy and Green Peace would love to fill it!

Ireland didn't lose it's Catholic Faith when it voted to legalize homosexual 'marriage.' It needed to have been already lost when this became conceivable.

So what should I do? Stay here, die and be buried in St. Hedwig's Cemetery on Siberia Road, that is to say, about 500 meters from where I am writing these lines right now, go back to Nova Scotia where I grew up and where my mother and brothers still live, or to Saint John where my grandparents are buried, a place where it's hard to imagine a more tradition-conscious group of Anglo-Saxon-Celts? (BTW, my tradition-loving friend, Peter, is from Saint John.)


  1. First thought: Stay here. The cemeteries here are so much more friendly to living human beings - there is still attention paid to trees and bits of shade rather than the almost industrial look of a modern cemetery.
    You know that I have thought lots about this subject and growing up in NS with nary a relative to be found (my mother's in Ontario and my father's in the UK and south africa) I felt rootless. I didn't understand this feeling until I became an adult. As a child, i felt a real lack of security and being the odd family out. I think that both of these feelings could have been remedied by more of us - cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents who could help explain my parents and siblings to me. I remember my older sister reading in a psych text that a child needs six strong and stable relationships to be mentally well (or something like that). My first thought was that a mother, father and two sets of grandparents seem the creator's ideal design. I knew only one grandparent and never met my father's parents. I consider this a tremendous loss. When I first met my paternal uncle at the age of 16 I was overwhelmed to see that my dad actually came from something! he had people who had watched him grow and could explain and love his peculiarities. This was particularly poignant to me when I met his sister for the first time last year - I was amazed to watch him interact with this woman who could tease him and love him and sister him. My mom commented that she wished that she could have spoken to her sister-in-law over the years; such conversation would have helped.
    Families torn apart are tragic. As a child I longed for many siblings and I think that this sentiment was partly just me wanting family. I also longed to marry someone who came from a big family with a ton of cousins and other relatives. I sort of got that, but i think that both of us feel that we are giving that to our children by having so many of them. If they can't have cousins than, by gosh, they will have brothers and sisters and they will form the great big family that we both wanted as children.
    Growing up in Hfx ours was the only family with our last name. I can't tell you what a measure of comfort it is to be a -ski now! I take comfort in knowing that there are distant cousins all over this Valley and that that kinship actually means something to them.
    I think that your wife feels this keen sense of family and that's why she longs for the island and family much more strongly than you do. Great post. Amazing how BB and MH bring about healing we never knew we needed!

  2. Suffice it to say that the 'great' families here live a reality I cannot even really imagine all that well. We were close to our cousins in NB too. I would say we only saw them a few times a year, but I get the feeling that for many who live in the same town with their extended families this would be the case too. But it's knowing they are out there which is your point. Knowing my maternal grandparents was very important to me, I do know that. But who are you? Our English Catholic friend no doubt understands his Catholicism as an ethnic and racial fact that we do not, me especially as a convert, and both of us as Canadians who have moved around. You are an artificial Pole, but glad to be, I guess. Yet referring to myself as Irish - you might as well call me Indo-European (also true) - it means so little to me.

    1. I was struck by the the Englishness of my dad's family's Catholicism when I met them. They have a recusant history and I was in awe of the fierce pride they have regarding that history - very similar to the aforementioned friend. I feel like I am faking such pride, despite having the same blood as the relatives, simply because I didn't grow up in England or around any English relatives: a loss, for sure. I claim the -ski last name, but have never felt Polish or even fake Polish. I've always sort of felt like I have no ethnic background. Interestingly, my Combermere cousins have always felt similarly and married men from very strong ethnic backgrounds. My kids think of themselves as canadian and are proud to be so. I have never felt canadian - a stranger and sojourner I must be!