Thursday, December 29, 2016

Gifts to Let Go, Gifts to Pass On

Cheryl L. McLean

With Christmas over and the New Year approaching it seemed a good time to do my cleaning and go through old boxes in the basement clearing out the old and making space for the new. Piled, stacked and stuffed in old boxes were many of the gifts of Christmas past we had given to our children over the years. Yards of neon green track (the cars had long sped away) enough Lego to build a three bedroom retirement condo, wingless planes, the back end of a sixteen wheeler (still full of little plastic pigs) and, entombed and preserved between the layers, a hairy hybrid cross between a mastodon and an anteater my kids remind me used to be called "Alf".
These were our gifts to our children. All we wanted to do was make them happy. Yes, the toys were expensive. And yes, it was Christmas, and Christmas came but once a year. I remember being a young mom waiting in the cabbage patch like all the other prospective parents for the adoption papers. And now "Abby" the cabbage patch doll at the bottom of the box was crushed under the weight of a six foot giant blue Smurf.
According to the Non Profit Canadian Toy Testing Council, toys scoring high on design, durability and function that year were big hits with the parents...something called "I Dig the Past, Dig and Grow Ancient Pet Triops" and "Play Doh Seaside Playworld" that comes with beach sand and smells like tanning lotion. Virtual life in a can is strange enough but can you imagine a dad approaching the sales clerk, dressed in his business suit and asking, without cracking a smile, "Do you have any "Play Doh Seaside Playworld" left? My son just has to have it.
So we rationalize. What would Christmas have been without our Chatty Cathy, our toy drums, GI Joes, guns and holsters, doctor kits and plastic pink princess shoes? These were our gifts. Given to many of us by our parents with all the best intentions. As I dug deep, pondering my choices and my purchases, questions surfaced. What gifts in our boxes would be worth taking? Which ones would be best to let go?
Nearing the end of the war, a gift of peace was given to the world that looked like nothing more than a giant toy drum on its side wrapped in a tangle of strings. It was something they wanted. Something they thought they couldn't survive without. Oppenheimer dreamed humanity would unite in lasting peace once aware it had the comparatively cheap and increasingly universal capability to obliterate itself. This was a drum delicately balanced on a very narrow shelf. With this new technological weapon the world would have a gift that would restore peace but it came with a risk. Mutually assured destruction.
The children of our century have gathered a bounty of gifts, the good and the bad, and yet with all they have inherited they have been given little power to control them and even less power to manage them.
But there is still room for optimism, for hope, when we are reminded that the best gifts don't end up in our basement boxes. They aren't rated on design, durability and function and yet they provide a lifetime of satisfaction. Every time you make a mistake and say you are sorry you pass on the gift of forgiveness. When you stand by your family members through both failure and success you give them the gift of unconditional love.
Excavating my way through those boxes I decided I would hold on to at least one thing...dear old Alf. Being part elephant he would help me remember. If good for nothing else these boxes and their contents remind me of our human frailties and how exasperatingly permanent those cold and miniaturized worlds can be. And, most importantly, thanks to my search, I won't forget the one thing I wish for us all and for our children this Christmas and into the future. The greatest gift of all. Peace. Pass it on.
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Friday, February 19, 2016

Course Medicine and the Arts

Announcement

Futurelearn is offering the course Medicine and the Arts online.
Course starts Feb. 29, 2016
Fee:  no charge

Educators:  Susan Levine, Associate Professor Anthropology
                   Professor Steve Reid, Family Physician
https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/medicine-and-the-arts/3/welcome
University of Cape Town

More info:

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Autobiographical poem/story excerpt from ethnodrama about aging and caregiving Cheryl L. McLean

Autobiographical poem/story based on lived experience 
 an excerpt from the ethnodrama/preview "Who Cares?"
written by C.L. McLean
performed September 23, 2015 Acadia University, Nova Scotia

Two Eggs Soft Boiled

I wish she could have joined us for breakfast today, but it’s too late now,
too late to have visited her more often than I did,
too late for more meat pies, Syrian bread, fatias, Kibi
with pine nuts made especially for me,
made with love in her kitchen in the small house in Espanola
so small could barely fit a table.
I remember my mother-in-law, Frances, in her hospital room
nearly time for brain surgery,
neuroblastoma cancerous, another tumour, about the size of a walnut.
She was 87 years old.
I am standing next to Frances
they are preparing her gurney,
the one that will wheel her down the hall
in a very short time,
up to the elevator that will take her to the operating room.
I don’t know what to say.
I know she always loved her food
as much as she enjoyed sharing it with us.
Afraid for her now
and afraid for me,
it’s her third cancer operation,
a warrior
double mastectomy at thirty-two,
two small children at home
two breasts removed
months of radiation and surgery
battled a reoccurrence, bowel cancer
and now this, this, brain cancer.


“You’ll be back for breakfast tomorrow morning,” I say.
“Yeah?” She turns to look at me. “What will we be having?”
“Eggs and toast with wild blueberry jam, the good jam.”
“Yes the good jam,” she smiles.
“Eggs how do you want them?” I ask.
“Boiled, make them boiled.”
“White or brown toast?” I ask.
She looks up at me.
“Brown.”
The attendants crank up the bed, ready to transfer her to the gurney.
“Keep talking, oh keep talking, don’t stop. It’s helping,” she says.
“Oh the toast,” I say, “it’s good with butter and lots of jam, lots not just a little
and the eggs, we don’t want to overcook them.”
They are lifting her body and moving her now on to the gurney,
lying there, they are wheeling her toward the elevator.
I am standing outside the hospital room
turned toward the elevator, one last look, good bye.
The elevator doors open and they wheel her in and before I turn to go…
she leans forward, raises her hand, puts up two fingers and calls out
“Remember two eggs…soft boiled.”


Two eggs soft boiled.
Egg, symbol of nurturing, rebirth, hope
this her last thought she might return
to join us for breakfast in the morning.

It will never be too late
to remember her,
the meaning of her life
the love food provides.
To give thanks here at this table
for the gifts she gave,
her loving generous presence
and these two eggs, soft boiled.


C.L. McLean excerpt from the script “Who Cares” 2015.

The script (40 pgs.) for the preview ethnodrama, “Who Cares?” was written in August 2015 and the 50 minute preview show, we referred to as “a taste of”,  took place September 23 at the Lower Denton Theatre, Acadia University.  In the audience were faculty members, physicians, spiritual care workers, dietitians, caregivers, students and community members.


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