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!!