A Canadian’s American Thanksgiving

“You’re Canadian, right?  From Canada.”

“Right,” I replied.  “And right again.”

My neighbour from across the street continued, “So you celebrate two Thanksgivings, right?  One at home and one here in Florida.”

“Right again,” I smiled.  “On both counts.”

“Well then, I sure hope you got enough to be thankful for,” he said as he sauntered away.

I found myself thinking about that as I lay barely awake in bed this morning, long before dawn, wishing I were still asleep.  In Canada, we celebrate Thanksgiving on the second Monday of every October, and this year we had gathered, as usual, with our two daughters’ extended families—numbering twenty-two with our granddaughters’ boyfriends added to the mix.

I first dated my wife when she was a lissome lass of sixteen, and neither of us ever went with anyone else after that.  For sixty years, we have celebrated Thanksgivings together, and once upon a long time ago, hosted the family events.  But we are honoured elders now, along with the other grandparents, and at our age, find the celebrations a tad tiring, if still wonderfully joyous.  When someone asked what we are thankful for this year, we agreed on the big five—our family, our friends, our two homes, our financial security, and our continued good health.  And then we raised a glass to the hope they will continue for some time to come.

American Thanksgiving falls on the fourth Thursday of every November, some six weeks after ours, and so, being in Florida by then, we celebrate it, too.  More quietly, though, as if somewhat apologetic (as Canadians are wont to be) for our privilege and good fortune.

As I lay abed this morning, pondering these thoughts—half-awake, wanting to be asleep—I could sense more than see my wife beside me.  Both of us were lying on our backs, she snoring ever so gently—as I had likely been doing, too, before stirring.  And it slowly dawned on me that we were holding hands, our fingers loosely interlaced by our sides.

I smiled quietly into the darkness of the pre-dawn bedroom, acknowledging, not for the first time, that this is what I am most thankful for.  No matter where I am.

Happy Thanksgiving!

So Wrong!

Pandemics are awful, I’ve had a craw-full,
So many still shut in alone.
Lonely and cut off, they’ve worked their butts off,
Miserable, clear to the bone.

Tough though it may be, they strive to be free,
Rid of the pandemic wave.
Emerging all bright-eyed into good health-side,
Evading the forbidding grave---
Saluting good health with a wave.
People are crying, all of them trying
Against all odds to be well.
Like a great hero, reducing to zero
This virus’s terrible spell.

Tell me it’s over, we’ll soon be in clover,
Really, it’s been way too long!
Everyone’s ready, trying to hold steady,
Each of us praying to be strong---
Sadly, this is so wrong!

You’re So Vain

This week’s prompt from my Florida writers’ group is to write a story, fewer than five hundred words, for STROLL, a local publication.

A friend I met sixty-five years ago in high school will soon celebrate his eightieth birthday, as I will shortly afterwards.  We stood up for each other at our weddings, and I did that again at his second wedding, a few years after his first wife passed.  He named his first son after me.  I have two daughters, neither of whom is named for him, but they love him dearly.

A long-since retired art teacher, he is a painter of some renown, with water-colours hanging in the homes of several distinguished collectors, including the recently-crowned King Charles III.  Likewise retired, I am the author of eighteen books of fiction, with worldwide sales numbering…I don’t know, in the hundreds?  Maybe?  Anyway, both of us garner numerous hits on various search-engines.

My friend was always a personable and handsome man, and he knew it.  In our younger years, it used to be said of him that he never met a looking-glass he didn’t like.  Mutual friends would joke that he’d never be alone as long as he could find a mirror.  When we’d stroll downtown together, I’d laughingly reproach him for constantly checking his reflection in storefront windows.

“It’s never going to get any better,” I’d chide.  “Gravity wins!”

He’d flash his trademark crooked smile.  “Yeah, but we don’t have to let it pull us down, right?”  And he’d steal another quick glance at the window.

I met my friend for coffee at The Forum the other day, and as I was parking, I saw him waiting on the sidewalk for me, studying his image in the restaurant’s plate-glass window.  Indeed, I saw myself growing larger in that same reflection as I walked over to join him.

Clapping an arm around his stooped shoulders, I crooned an off-key variation on a Carly Simon hit from days gone by—You’re so vain, you prob’ly think you look amazing…

Leaning into me, he chuckled ruefully.  “Yeah, once upon a time, I guess.  But d’you know what I was thinking just now, watching you come up behind me?”

“Let me guess,” I ventured.  “You were probably hoping this weird-looking old guy approaching you would spring for coffee today.”

“Not a bad idea,” he laughed.  “But no, I was actually thinking how happy I am to see you.  The day is coming when one of us will be staring at a reflection like this, and the other one won’t be there.”

“There’s a happy thought,” I said.  But, alas, I knew it to be true.

For several moments, both of us examined our images in the glass—slightly bent, frailer than we’d like, each leaning a little on the other.  When we turned to hug one another, it was a long hug.  A moist-eyed hug.

And then we went for coffee.  My treat.

The Magic Soap

The weekly prompt from my Florida writers’ group was to imagine we have some sort of magic soap, and write a story about what it might wash away. This is my response to that prompt—

“Mike Eruzione?  No way!  Grandpa wasn’t that good a hockey-player.  No way he played with Eruzione!”

“He says he assisted on Eruzione’s game-winning goal against the Russians.”

“That game was played in 1980!  Grandpa was born in 1935, so he’d have been…let’s see…he’d have been forty-five by then.  If he had played in that game, that would have been the miracle on ice!”

“Well, he says that’s what happened.”

[The five grandchildren, three young women and their brothers, are sitting by the fireplace in the parlor of their grandfather’s home while the old man is napping upstairs.]

“Grandpa says a lot of things these days, most of which never happened.  He told me a week or so ago that he helped Paul McCartney write Hey Jude while he was on vacation in England in 1968.”

“Grandpa’s never even been to England!  Do any of you believe that story?”

[A chorus of disbelief flows from the other four.]

“Nah.”

“Nah.”

“Nah.”

“Nah.  No way!  I know it’s his favourite song, but no way he helped write it!”

“It’s getting to be a problem, this story-telling.  I think he really believes what he’s saying.  You think it’s…y’know, dementia?  Or Alzheimer’s?”

“Maybe it’s just bragging.  Trying to make himself sound more important to us than he really was.”

“Yeah, maybe.  Like Baron Munchausen.”

[The other four glance quizzically at each other.]

“Who?”

“Baron Munchausen.  A German storyteller from the 18th century.”

“Nah, Grandpa’s never been to Germany, either.”

“That’s not the point.  He could be telling tall tales like…ah, never mind.”

“He told me a while back that he was on the bus in Birmingham when Rosa Parks refused to get off.  Said he got up and gave her his seat.”

“See, that’s another crazy story!  That happened sometime in the mid-fifties.  Grandpa would’ve still been in his teens.  And she wasn’t told to get off the bus, she was told to sit in the back.  And it was Montgomery, not Birmingham.  Grandpa’s never been to either of those places.”

“He gets things all mixed up now, which is how you know he’s…well, either lying or just mis-remembering.”

“Yeah, he sounds like Forrest Gump, right?  Thinks he met with famous people all through his life.”

“Yeah, but at least Forrest Gump was real!”

[Four of the grandchildren stare in bewilderment at their brother before one of them carries on.]

“He tells me these sorts of stories, too, but I never know what to say.  I don’t wanta hurt his feelings, but I don’t wanta act as if I believe him, y’know?  What do you guys do?”

“I laugh if he’s laughing, I’m serious if he’s serious.  I just go with the flow.  What harm does it do?”

[The five of them sit silently for several moments.]

“It’s too bad there isn’t some sort of cleanser for the brain, something that would wash away all his faulty memories and leave the good ones.”

“Not just good ones, but correct ones.  All memories don’t have to be good ones.”

“Right, yeah, that’s what I meant.  We need some sort of soap for his brain so we could just wash away all the mixed-up memories.

“You wanta brainwash Grandpa?”

[Everyone looks at the speaker, aghast.]

“No, not brainwash him!  That’s not what I mean.  I just meant some sort of magic soap—maybe he eats it, or we mix it with his cocoa at bedtime, and all the cobwebby stuff in there gets cleared up.”

“Just don’t suggest Ivermectin!”

“Speaking of cobwebs, he asked me this morning where his Spiderman suit is.  Said his spidey-sense is tingling.”

“Omigod, now he thinks he’s a super-hero?”

“So, what sort of magic soap do super-heroes use?”

“There isn’t one, not for Grandpa’s problem!  His problem can’t be fixed.”

[The five grandchildren stare into the fire, at a loss.]

“He is sort of funny with all his stories, though.  Right?”

“Yeah, he does make me laugh.”

“Me, too, so why are we talking about cleaning out his brain with some sort of magic soap?”

“Right, I agree.  As long as he’s no danger to himself or anyone else, who cares?”

[A loud, clattering sound is heard outside, and one of the grandchildren goes to the window to investigate.]

“Omigod!  It’s Grandpa!”

“What?”

“It’s Grandpa, dressed in his Spiderman suit!  He’s on the porch-roof, trying to climb down the trellis outside!”

[The five grandchildren scramble for the door.]

Hot Off the Press

The latest full-length novel in my Maggie Keiller/Derek Sloan crime-fiction series is hot off the press and available for Christmas-giving!

Three decades ago, a predatory high school Principal in the Northern Highlands District School Board sexually assaulted a number of his female students, one of whom subsequently took her own life.  Despite the courage of one fifteen-year-old girl who reported the assaults to the Director of Education at the time, nothing was done to stop the Principal’s depredations.

Now, thirty years after the assaults were first reported, that former Principal is murdered in his home by an unknown assailant.  Within a week of his killing, two more men are murdered—the Director of Education who had done nothing about the original report, and the board’s lawyer at the time, who was complicit in the cover-up.  Police begin investigating the killings, and as usual, Maggie Keiller and Derek Sloan are drawn into the unfolding events.

This riveting story is set against the backdrop of a truckers’ blockade organized and funded by a coalition of western-separatist, white-supremacist groups, who seek to disrupt the flow of trade and commerce in Ontario and force the government to resign. 

In a heart-stopping finish to the story, Maggie and Derek are confronted by the vengeful killers at their home on Georgian Bay, and are themselves threatened with death as they try to protect the woman at the centre of everything.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

This paperback book is intended for mature audiences, and is available for preview and purchase at this safe site— https://www.lulu.com/spotlight/precept 

Or, you can visit the publisher’s bookstore at https://www.lulu.com/search?page=1&q=J+Bradley+Burt&pageSize=10&adult_audience_rating=&sortBy=PUBLICATION_DATE_DESC  

All my published novels and anthologies of tales are displayed on these safe sites. Once you’ve added any of the books to your cart, tap the cart icon in the upper right of your screen and you will be taken to a safe payment page.

If you have read any of the previous books in this exciting series, or if you are a regular reader of my blog, I know you will enjoy this book.

Lilt and Flow

There are few things I find more pleasurable than hearing the lilt and flow of poetry read aloud, especially if read by a skilled orator or by a loving family member.

My father was both, and it was he who read one of my abiding favourites, The Night Before Christmas, a classic tale by Clement Moore, on every one of the sixty Christmas times we shared before his death. Here are the beginning stanzas—

My siblings and I would lie in our beds, literally quivering with anticipation as we listened to that familiar tale, and I miss hearing my Dad read it to this day.

Another favourite poetic tale is The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes, which I first heard read aloud by a high school English teacher who loved her calling.  Here is the first stanza—

The final stanza before the coda sent shivers up and down my spine as I sat listening in the classroom, and so it still does—

That same teacher also introduced me to one of my favourite poets, Robert Service, whose rhythmic cadences entrance me even now, especially The Cremation of Sam McGee.  Here are the first two stanzas

So enamored am I of that rhythm and rhyme scheme that I have even written similar poems of my own, pale comparisons, but still a joy to read aloud.  Here is a stanza from one example, I Haven’t the Time

As a young father, I would often read this excerpt from Kahlil Gibran’s poem, On Children, to my own daughters as I tucked them into bed.  Although too young to grasp its full meaning, they seemed to enjoy the sound of my voice as I pondered the deeper implications of the verse—

I think my all-time favourite poem is When You Are Old, penned by my all-time favourite poet, William Butler Yeats. It speaks of the eternal nature of love and loss, and evokes in me both sadness and an abiding happiness each time I hear it—

I think I shall die before I am finished discovering more and more poetry whose lilt and flow lifts my soul, and I wonder if doing so will still be possible in the afterlife.  What joy I would find meandering the roads of eternity while listening to symphonic music from the maestri, and hearing great poetry from the masters read aloud.

And who knows, perhaps that is the way it will be, as this stanza from J.R.R. Tolkien’s poem, Roads Go Ever On, might imply—

Whether it will be so or not, I have always loved the lilt and flow of the spoken word. I hope you do, too.

The Issue

A sage once opined that when we persist in arguing over and over again with a stupid person, we reveal ourselves as the stupid one.  Nevertheless, I have long engaged in fruitless discussions with an old-time friend, to the point where I’m beginning to suspect the adage is true.  I’m the stupid guy.

The problem I have is that this friend always strays from the issue at hand, deflecting my well-reasoned arguments by taking us off topic.  For instance, if I were to suggest to him that it’s raining outside, a fact easily verified by looking out the window, he might well claim he sees no one with an umbrella.

“That’s not the issue!” I would protest.  “You’re changing the subject.  Whether or not you spy an umbrella has nothing to do with whether it’s raining or not.”

He would probably just smile and ignore my argument.

Or if I were to offer an opinion that wages for the working-class haven’t kept pace with rising costs, his comment might be to tell me he has more money at hand now than he’s ever had.

“That’s not the issue!” I would probably object.  “You might well be better off than ever, but that doesn’t change the fact that costs are rising.”

He’d likely smile again, placidly this time, and not concede my point.

Perhaps I wouldn’t find this habit of his so maddening if it didn’t seem to me that he blithely assumes he’s had the better of me when these discussions happen.  Without ever directly rebutting something I’ve said, he inevitably counters with a peripherally-related argument, thereby appearing to satisfy himself that the matter is settled.

And yet, stupid me, I keep arguing with him.

A while back, we were talking about whether or not the scarcity of cold and ‘flu medicines on drugstore shelves is a problem.  “I’m told it’s a supply-chain issue,” I stated.  “And that’s exacerbated by a heavier-than-usual demand for the stuff because of the prevalence of illness now that school is back.  So, it’s a real problem right now.”

“I don’t use over-the-counter remedies,” my friend said.

“Yeah, but that’s not the issue,” I replied.  “The issue is that there’s a shortage of those products at a time when people need them.  That’s a problem!”

Another casual shrug was all I got.  And that smug smile.

We’re both aged athletes with an abiding interest in sports, and while watching a televised ballgame together a few nights ago, I said, “Boy, the Blue Jays look really good tonight.  It’s only the fourth inning, and they’ve already got seven hits and four runs in.  They’re hot!”

My friend replied, “Yeah, but they’re not playing the Yankees!”

“That’s not the issue,” I exclaimed, maybe a bit heatedly.  “So what if they’re not playing the Yankees?  They could be playing Casey at the bat in Mudville, for all I care.  They’re playing really well tonight.”

My friend shrugged as if it didn’t matter.

More recently, we were talking about the government’s removal of masking requirements for air-travel.  “I think they must consider the pandemic over,” I complained.  “They figure no mitigations are needed now, but I think that puts all of us at risk.”

“I don’t fly,” my friend said.

“That’s not the issue,” I fired back.  “Lots of people don’t fly.  But for those who do, the issue is they’re being placed in harm’s way.”

My friend shrugged off my assertions.  “But not if they don’t fly,” he said.

“That’s not the issue…” I began, before giving up.  How stupid can I be?

Yesterday, over a couple of beers and Reuben sandwiches, I decided to tell my friend why, during many of our conversations, his continual diversions from the subject at hand are bothering me.  “It’s almost as if you’re ignoring my point,” I said, “as if what I’m saying doesn’t matter to you.”

“Why would you think that?” he asked, squarely on point.  It caught me by surprise because I’d expected him to offer one of his usual non sequiturs.

“Well…you never seem to respond directly,” I stammered.  “You usually mention something only superficially related to whatever I’ve said, and then assume you’ve won the argument.”

“Argument?” he repeated.

“Well, not argument,” I demurred.  “More like discussion.  And you ignore the points I’m making.”

“And you think I’m doing that in order to win…what, exactly?”

“The…the argument.”  I smiled weakly over my beer at the absurdity of it all.

My friend smiled back.   “Did it ever occur to you that I might be conceding your point in these discussions, agreeing with you, and simply offering up another thought to keep the conversation going?”

Drawing a deep breath, I said, “Oh!  I guess not, no.  I sort of assumed you were just trying to one-up me and win…you know, the argument.”

“Well maybe, that’s the issue then,” he said.

And at that point, we ordered another beer and moved on to a much less-stupid, more pleasant conversation, all issues set aside.

So Far, So Good!

I have a friend who claims his goal in life is to live forever.

“How’s it going so far?” I ask him.

“So far, so good!” he replies with a grin.

As I approach my eightieth year—having been alive for all or parts of nine different decades, the first being the 1940s—I don’t share that lofty goal, to be an eternal Methuselah.  I confess, though, my friend does have me wondering about my chances.  So far, I have lived out more years than three grandparents, three uncles, two of five aunts, and all four of my younger siblings (one of whom has already passed).

I’m currently the eldest of my surviving birth-clan, which includes three sisters, two daughters, and five grandchildren.  My wife, almost four years my junior (strictly speaking, not a birth-relative), is also with us.

If I am destined to live longer than anyone in my family so far, I’ll have to make it through another fifteen years, which will leave me just five shy of my centenary.  One grandmother made it to ninety, three aunts lived into their early-nineties, mostly intact, as did both my parents, so my genetic coding bodes well.

One goal I do have, perhaps more realistic than my friend’s, is to spend more years in retirement than I spent during my professional career.  I worked for thirty-two years and retired at fifty-five, leaving me eight years to go before attaining that goal when I reach eighty-eight.  So far, so good!

Back when I was a young thirty-ish man involved in several athletic pursuits, I used to joke that, if I had to die anytime soon, the best exit would come while sliding into third base, the game-winning run scoring ahead of me, with the last words I hear being the umpire bawling, “He’s safe!”

Older now, and less-inclined to make light of matters mortal, I’m pleased to say that goal was never realized.  I’m still alive, no longer playing ball, and so far, so good!

As an aside, one of my more ribald teammates claimed his goal—never one of mine—was to die in bed, shot to death by an irate husband.  To my knowledge, absent a willing bed-mate, he also never attained his dream.  But I digress.

Baseball is not the only pursuit I have forsaken as the years have mounted up.  Badminton, curling, cycling, golf, ice-hockey, in-line skating, and tennis are also sports I have abandoned in recent years.  The main reason, given that I wish I could still partake in all of them, is that I came to fear major physical damage if I should come a-cropper.  The risks began to outweigh the rewards, and I became determined not to end my life as an invalid. 

These sacrifices notwithstanding, I certainly had no wish to finish my time on earth as a couch-potato, either.  So, I still visit the gym to engage in low-impact activities such as rowing, weightlifting (low weights/high reps), and stretching exercises.  I walk the corridors and stairs of my high-rise condo, and I still swim, although not as many laps as once I could manage.  My goal is to stay active and limber, and so far, so good!

Paying attention to my personal health is a much greater priority now, too.  I still remember an occasion (again, in my feckless thirties), when I called my doctor’s office to make an appointment for a physical exam.  The receptionist couldn’t find my records for the longest time, and when she came back on the line, she said, “Okay, we’re good.  I found them in the dead file.”

“The dead file!” I exclaimed.  “What made you think I’d died?”

With a chuckle, she explained the dead file was the repository for records of patients who had not made an appointment during the previous five years.  Five years!  I was shocked to be informed it had been that long.

These days, of course, having lived into my ninth decade, I see my doctor much more regularly.  My goal is to stay ahead of ailments that might slow me down, or put a crimp in the comfortable lifestyle I now enjoy. 

That current, comfortable existence includes singing in a men’s a cappella chorus, a most enjoyable experience, still part of a team.  It includes spending hours each day writing essays and poems for a regular blog, tales for a number of published anthologies, and stories for a series of published crime-fiction novels.  I’m having the time of my life right now, as a matter of fact, and hope I can go on doing these things for a long time to come.  So far, so good!

My wife and I are fortunate to be able to split our time between a home in Ontario and another in Florida.  Each autumn, and again each spring, as our time in one draws closer to its end, we begin to look forward to our return to the other.  Aside from the normal concerns associated with home-ownership, we find it’s an idyllic way to live, and we eagerly anticipate each change of the season. 

In the unlikely event it turns out my friend is able to realize his own goal to live forever, I know he’ll bid me a fond farewell when my time comes, as it surely will.

But you know what?  So far, so good! 

Get the Message?

“So, lemme get this straight,” my companion says.  “If your phone rings, doesn’t matter where you are, you don’t answer it?  Not even if you know who it is?”

“Right,” I reply, “most of the time, anyway.  Unless it’s my wife or kids, or grandkids.  For them, I always answer.”

We’re walking along the lakefront on a sunny late-afternoon, enjoying the scenery, the other strollers, the kids flashing by on bikes and scooters, the sailboats out on the water.  A light breeze keeps us comfortable enough in the heat.

“So, what if it’s an emergency?” my friend asks.

“I figure whoever it is will call right back,” I say, “or leave a voicemail message.  Robocalls don’t do that, but people calling in an emergency will.  If nobody answers a bot’s call, it just moves on to the next random number.”

“You always check your voicemail?”

“I do,” I say.  “Maybe not immediately after the call, but frequently enough.”

“What if it’s a relative or close friend?”

“Same drill,” I tell him.  “I mean, I may choose to answer, but it depends on what I’m doing at the time.  I figure the phone is my servant, not the other way around.  It’s a tool that does its thing when I say so, but I don’t jump to its bidding.”

“Yeah, but it’s not the phone demanding your attention,” my companion protests.  “It could be a friend!”

“That’s right,” I nod.  “But if another friend called me right now, I wouldn’t ignore you to answer the call.  Why should you play second-fiddle when you’re right here with me?”

“Yeah, I can see that,” he concedes, before adding, “So, I imagine you never answer unknown callers, either.”

“Right.  Same logic.  But if they leave a message, I’ll soon know if I need to return the call or just forget about it.”

“Seems like an imperious attitude to me,” my companion says.  “What if everybody did that to you when you’re calling them?  How’d you like it?”

“Actually,” I say, “I wouldn’t mind.  Far as I’m concerned, it works the same both ways.  If my reason for calling is urgent, I’ll leave a voicemail message.  If it’s an emergency, I’ll still do that, but I’ll also keep calling—twice, three times, four, one right after the other.  I figure in that case, the person I’m calling will realize she or he should answer, that the calls aren’t random.”

“And if they don’t?”

I shrug.  “Well, some things are beyond my control,” I say.  “The important thing in cases like that is I try to get through and leave a message.”

“Seems like it’d be easier if everybody just answered every call,” my companion says.  “That way there’d be no wasted time.”

I shrug again.  “Depends, I guess.  Some people—like me, for instance—would think answering every call is a waste of time.  Every call?  C’mon!”

We walk in silence for awhile, pausing to let a flock of geese cross our path on their way from the water to the park lawn.

“So, if I call you, I won’t get an answer, right?” my companion says, still thinking about our conversation.  “And then, I hafta leave a message and wait for you to get back to me.  But what if I’m the one who’s busy when you do that?  Then what?”

“Then I can leave a message for you,” I argue, “which I’d do if my call was important.  But if I were just calling to touch base, I might not leave a voicemail at all.  No problem.  Either way, the ball’s in your court at that point.”

“And this works for you?”

“So far,” I grin, gently edging my friend to one side to let a couple of bicycles flash past, bells ringing loudly.

“Maybe I should give it a try,” he says uncertainly.  “I get a lotta calls, and sometimes I really wanta let ‘em go, y’know?  You think it could work for me?”

“You won’t know if you don’t try,” I reply.  “I had to work at it when I first…”

I’m interrupted by the insistent jangling of my companion’s phone.  With a stricken look on his face, he pulls it from his pocket, checks the screen, then puts it to his ear, turning his back as he does so.

I walk on, unperturbed, leaving him in privacy to deal with the call.  A hundred metres or so further along, I hear him call my name.  Turning, I see him, phone still fixed to his ear, motioning for me to wait.

In response, I put my hand to my own ear, pinkie and thumb cocked in the universal signal for Call me!, then carry on my merry way. 

I know I’ll get his message.

Uneasy Lies the Head…

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.  So mused Henry IV in William Shakespeare’s eponymous play, after he had seized the throne from Richard II.  Being ruler of an Empire had proven more wearisome than he had reckoned.

I thought of his quandary upon hearing the news that Prince Charles has succeeded his deceased mother, Queen Elizabeth II, to the British throne, and will henceforth be known as His Majesty Charles the Third, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of His other Realms and Territories King, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.

That is a mouthful, and may prove to be more than he can chew.

For the first nine years of my life, I pledged allegiance to a King every morning in school—and to the flag, the Empire, and my country—but I had scant appreciation of what those actually were.  To me, the King was a framed portrait of a uniformed man hanging on the wall of my classroom; the flag was an attractive array of red, white, and blue crosses, draped below the portrait; the Empire was made up of the pink areas on a Mercator projection wall-map prominently displayed nearby; and my country, Canada, was for a long time defined by the few square city-blocks I could traverse on my tricycle before being corralled by a frantic mother.  But it was pink!

Indeed, as we were taught, the sun never set on the British Empire.  We sang the national anthem every day with great gusto: God save our gracious King, Long live our noble King, God save the King… 

It took a while for us to master the switch to God save our gracious Queen… upon the death of George VI in 1952 And eventually, we stopped singing the song at all, in favour of our own national anthem, O Canada, officially adopted in 1980—long after I had left my schoolboy days behind.

It never occurred to me back then that those glorious pink areas on the map were the result of rampant, colonial conquest of the original inhabitants of those lands.  And in fairness, how could I have known?  I was raised to believe in right vs. wrong, truth vs. falsity, morality vs. depravity, religiosity vs. atheism, generosity vs. selfishness, civility vs. rudeness, the rule of law applied to all equally vs. anarchy—all admirable virtues in and of themselves, but all defined, of course, by the privileged White authority represented by the Crown.  The triumphant.

…Send him victorious, Happy and glorious…

I was brought up in the bosom of the Anglican Church, a colonial version of the Church of England, and taught to believe that sin was inevitable, repentance essential, and forgiveness attainable.  And those, too, I came to understand, were defined from on high.  Sin was anything the clergy might from time to time, in their great, Christian wisdom, determine it to be; repentance was adjudged sincere or not by their strict standards; and forgiveness was beneficently granted by the Lord through them—or not, as they deemed appropriate—often requiring mandatory acts of atonement.

To be sure, I enjoyed a privileged childhood, for which I am grateful.  But my upbringing rendered me an absolutist well into my adult years, fully invested in the values and tenets I had been taught.  That I am today something of a relativist may, I suppose, be attributed to my advancing years and a questing mind, more than to any great, moral awakening.

It seems to me now that, although might should never make right, the definition of right vs. wrong is still determined by those who can enforce their interpretation.  Truth vs. falsity is defined and re-defined by those who are winning the culture-wars at any particular moment.  Ernest Hemingway wrote a memoir, published posthumously, the title of which—A Moveable Feast—describes perfectly the relativism of the definitions of virtues we still profess to believe.

What constitutes selfishness today, as opposed to self-interest?  And who gets to decide?  What is regarded as moral vs. depraved behaviour?  And by whom?  Where is the boundary between civility toward one another vs. rudeness and hate?  And who sets that boundary?

Is adherence to a set of liturgy-bound, religious beliefs more legitimate than a self-imposed regimen of acceptable, generous-of-spirit behaviour?  And who is to decide if the adherents of either viewpoint are upholding and demonstrating their professed beliefs, as opposed to merely paying lip-service.  Hypocrisy is never pretty.  

In the diverse, multicultural world in which we live, there are many who would answer those questions. And there are many more, alas, who will not listen to any but their own.

A major advantage of being an absolutist is that one need never question one’s own motives or actions.  For the acquiescent, it is enough to act within the boundaries of the commonly-accepted virtues proscribed from on high, or profess to be doing so.  For the scofflaws, it suffices to act in opposition to that, based upon their own set of contradictory values.  Each side sees itself as right, the other wrong.  And they are absolutely certain of their positions.

Relativists, on the other hand, are forever doomed to uncertainty, questioning the validity, the relevance, the wisdom of their beliefs and actions, no matter what they do.  Theirs is the age-old question—why?

King Charles III strikes me from afar as one who, though bound by centuries of absolutist tradition and ritual, will prove to be something of a relativist, a King who will question many of those very institutions and sacraments surrounding him, with a view to modifying them.  I want to believe he realizes that, even as the monarchy is steeped in pomp and circumstance, it cannot stand still.  There is no such thing as stasis.  Just as our world is ever evolving, so, too, must its institutions.

Charles now wears the crown I pledged allegiance to on the head of his grandfather during my long-ago school-days, and I pray it will not lie uneasy upon him.  I hope it will inspire him to critically examine his reign relative to the world around him, to lead his monarchy to a strengthening of ties with his subjects, and toward reconciliation with those whom the Empire has harmed.

…Long to reign over us, God save the King.