We Are One Big Coffee House

By Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

Who has given thought to what the great dismantling of the structures of the Canadian mental and emotional landscape is going to mean?  While reading a wonderful Canadian novel, I was siezed with the need to do so.

There have always been big changes in this country as wilderness was transformed to logging  or farming, bringing villages and roads and railways and industry, all hugely altering landscapes and ways of life.

But the pace, the pace – it’s happening so quickly now.

I had asked, in this forum, what would happen as I let go of being part of the world of faith.  Then I found I couldn’t let it go – it is me, I am it.  Relax.  Don’t have to answer that one yet.

But we are all letting go of a lot.

Around us, Harper doesn’t just let go.  He’s assaulting the liberal country we’ve grown up with.  Maybe the country needs shaking up, but does this leader respect what he’s taking apart?  Diminish security for the elderly, and services for those without many resources, and put the money into massive jails, the size of which will stagger us.

Social, structural, political changes are part of every country’s life.  But the fabric of community and family life is shifting mightily.  A modest example but think about regular dinner times – lots of sitting around the table talking?

A Foundation of Stories

We’re simultaneously chopping away at the old stories that generations of childish imaginations wove themselves around, with heroes and villains representing human qualities.  European myths and fairytales ensured a child knew what a witch was about, or an ogre, a princess, a toad, a goblin.  Every culture had its store of folk images, that passed along how peoples viewed the world.  But those stories have been pretty well  judged unwholesome, dark, unsuitable for children.  The new volume of children’s literature has a huge Disney-fied component – bright, bland, colourful, cheerful.  The modern field also includes thousands of absolutely wonderful tales, encompassing an emotional range and complexity of moral thought combined with artistry of the highest order.  So we’re not deprived of a good children’s literature.

What’s shrinking is familiarity with the archetypes and images that were held in common within cultures, back into history.  Verbal story
telling doesn’t happen much in modern homes.  Pockets remain, as storytelling becomes another precious art form in self-selected groups.   Some grandparents still pass on stories of their people – lucky, those grandchildren.

We Want It Real

We’ve been addicted for some time to real life, to the authentic.  This sounds contrary to casual observation when the proliferation of made-up entertainments is noticed.  Movies, TV, magazines that pictorialize lives of people rich and famous – it’s all modern fairy tale.  But I’m speaking not of the stages of life when youth seeks what is larger than life and looks in made-up places for it.  I meaning serious-minded ordinary people looking for what’s substantial, what will sustain them once they’ve lost the comfort of being part of a tight family circle and are out in the world.

For many, church communities will provide that connection with the substantial.  A tradition of friendliness, of safety and belonging, with stories galore.

Skeptical but Eager for What is Authentic

But we’re also exposed to a world that we’re not sure how to read.  “News” keeps us more and more widely aware, even as we acknowledge that we don’t really know what we see on TV – is it real or altered to suit another agenda (to make a good story)?   A happening that we witnessed may be told as a quite different event.  Media in some ways removes the reality of whatever life it’s reporting.

We have learned to let go of the fictions about the happy peasant, the ignorant foreigner, glorious rulers, politicians as royalty.  We know about the suffering and misery out there.  Sentiment about our ideal life styles was dumped wholesale in the 60’s as the realities in South East Asia, Latin America, the southern U.S., First Nations came into our homes.  The resultant idealism about less materialistic values is now mocked, but it was real in various places.  For every few messed-up hippies, there were another dozen living quietly in alternative communities practicing ways of sharing and saving resources.

We are One Big Coffee House

But the press toward The Immediate, in seeking stimulation for the mind, the heart, and the senses, has accelerated.  We love what is current, what is newly produced.  Much of the technology is terrific.  I celebrate the jobs for mathematicians’ and scientists, for writers and artists and the book industry.   Different historical periods have experienced this great mishmash of ideas.  The coffee houses of Europe in the Protestant Reformation – abuzz with the new ideas.  The Courts of the Renaissance; the Left Bank in Paris in the ‘30’s.

This time, though, it’s ubiquitous.  Everywhere.  In the jungles, cell phones have made constructing phone lines unnecessary.  Television, powered by batteries where electricity isn’t available, takes foreign images deep into Asian mountain country.  As David Suzuki tells us, we are all connected now.  We breathe the same air and we are thus part of each other.

The Hope and the Question

Seen hopefully, we can now create lives out of what we can feel and sense as healthy and life-giving.  Where tradition stifles a fresh gaze, it has to go.

Think of a piece of intricately hand-crafted lace, intended to indicate that the house where it was displayed on a polished table was that of a cultivated family.  Now a young woman, finding it lovely, wraps it around her bosom.  Or hangs it as a banner.   New uses – bravo.  But the lace will not likely ever be reproduced, not by hand.  Up-end, recreate, transform!  And so we do.

But are we rushing too headlong?  Are we adrift on a sea where the icebergs are melting and the shorelines are receding?  And where the people who know how to stay afloat are somewhere else?  Is that okay?  Can we just keep creating and figuring it out as we go, and jettisoning the past so carelessly?  Maybe!!



Filed under A Bigger Circle, Rosemary's entries, Uncategorized

2 responses to “We Are One Big Coffee House

  1. Kay

    How do we stay afloat through the vagaries, illnesses and the stuff that daily living throws at us? How do people manage when their support systems that allow independence are removed when hospitalized because the need is so great by others for those services. Read Helen Henderson’s column in today’s Star (February 4) for many it is an eye opener, but for those of us who support people with disabilities it is just a continuation of what happens to them, usually at times of medical crisis, or when they have to spend time in hospital.
    But.. there are wonderful people and organizations that care and support people, without whom many people would sink below the surface of existence. We are all connected; and coffee houses (Tim’s and Starbucks and Lida’s Cafe) are still places to meet and talk and not just with friends but the person sitting near me. I have some wonderful discussions with strangers about the state of the world, books, especially about books.

  2. The cafe is dead. Long live the Danforth Cafe. I loved it. I ran it (along with others). I wish it would run again. A place for entertainment, but thinking. A different attitude to those who came in the door. It took a lot of work and a lot of people and a lot of love. One of my top three or four reasons for attending Danforth – from the other side of the city.
    Perhaps it will live again.
    I like the way I “came to” reading your phrase about cell phones in the jungle because telephone wires weren’t necessary. I’m awake now.
    And it’s totally true about the media – lots of it, what is true?
    Even certified “studies”. My sister just ran through some reasons not to believe a simple one. I’ve asked her to expound in writing. And I’ll share that with you.
    I tried an experiment of living without God. I was trying to show a…hmmm. Agnostic? Atheist? who did want to write (wrote) a play about the second coming. From a comedy musical theatre angle. Really. No, really.
    If you can believe that, then believe I searched the bible and studied to try and show him what the true nature of God was. In some kind of language he could understand. Cause, I had a lot of notes on his script. (Forget the songs.) (Oi.) So, in his challenges, I decided to act like some others act, and behave as if God did not exist at all.

    What an empty time. Cold. Empty. I don’t know. I don’t want to do it again! I think I decided if what I believe in doesn’t exist, I’m going to choose my belief ANYWAY, cause everyone has their beliefs. So, raspberries! Call me crazy. I don’t like the empty cold of nothingness. I want my God, my Holy Spirit. My loving Christ.

    This exercise of searching also led to my “Subway Revelation” which some Danforthers will have heard: as I was waiting to pick someone up, searching for their form through a maze of Subway riders, I kept “seeing” other people I know, from a distance, their form, their clothing, their hairstyles. Making me overjoyed that someone from, say, the Danforth side, would be over on my side. Then the person would get closer and I would realize it was not them. And I would be deflated. This happened many times. And so I said: that’s ridiculous. I would have to be God to know all those people. And so it was revealed unto me: God knows us all. Our form. From a distance. And he is overjoyed to see us. Meet us. And sad when we do not meet him.

    That has nothing to do with your essay, does it? I am brilliant at non-sequitars.

    Except, we are made to be together. Us and God and others. I suppose.

    I used to visit people a lot more. Cause I thought they needed a visit. A drop of something. Now I’m tied to home more with fragile parents. I sometimes go out and physically feel the thing, whatever it is, about being together with people. Or when they drop by.

    Everything IS connected. “They” don’t know why.

    See: Symphony of Science – ‘We Are All Connected’ (ft. Sagan, Feynman, deGrasse Tyson & Bill Nye)



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