Thursday, October 12, 2017

70 Is Not My Golf Score! -- 3 -- October 12, 2017

On the ocean blue

I only remember three things about my trip early in 1953 from the port of Piraeus, in Athens, Greece to Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
The first was the stop that our ocean liner Nea Ellas’ (or Hellas’) made at the beautiful port of Lisbon, Portugal. I do not know if we disembarked, but I do remember standing on the deck of our boat watching some more lucrative passengers throwing coins to the little boats far below. Each boat contained one or two people in swimsuits, mostly male. The idea was to throw the coins near the boats but not on or in them, so that the locals could dive into the water and retrieve them. Most exciting to watch for a five-year old. I remember thinking how fortunate these divers were. They were having fun swimming and diving and getting money for it as well.
It wasn’t until much later in my own life that I surmised the life circumstances of most of them. I realized that poverty and perhaps a lack of opportunity to gain an education were likely major factors in their selection of such a livelihood. But what bothered me in retrospect was the fact I and others were being entertained or amused by their lot in life, or at least their performances. In a recent search on the Internet, I was relieved to see that there was no information on this activity in Lisbon that I could find and one can only hope that the practice stopped long ago.
Perhaps subconsciously this experience helped form some of my philosophy, regrettably held to this day, concerning how I treat the poor, or in today’s terms, the homeless, the squeegee kids, or the souls that just hold up a sign and walk towards your car when you are stopped at a red light. I must admit that I have little time for those that just sit cross-legged on the sidewalk and hold out a paper cup to be filled with money. Or those that soak your windshield with dirty water only to squeeze it ‘clean’ later, and demand you pay them for their unsolicited and unwanted service. And, in some cases, heaven help you (or your car) if you don’t. No, they are not all like that – the smart ones are very polite and take a hit like any wise businessperson. It’s just that one doesn’t know what kind one is facing from inside the car. Many a good automobile finish has been marred in the process. Ah, where are the police when you need them?
More recently, I have lightened up. I now sometimes intentionally carry coins with me strictly for helping others – not because they are poor, but because I am blessed. And I realize that I have been blessed to be a blessing. I still have a long way to go. But I am realizing that my job is not to judge whether someone deserves the help or whether he/she is doing all they can to help themselves – but rather to realize that one or two bad choices in my own life and I’d be right there, sitting beside them. But I admit I need to become even more willing to be involved in the lives of those less fortunate than I, one way or another.
The second memory (reinforced mostly through repeated retelling by my mother and others) from my first trip across the Atlantic was about getting lost on the ocean liner. Early in the voyage, my mother had discovered that her one and only child, a son, just five years old, was nowhere to be found. Panic struck. She madly dashed here, there, and everywhere without success. Petrified greatly by the fear of me having gone overboard and by now having been eaten by a shark which apparently passengers had been warned about, all she was capable of was wailing and screams. But if that possibility didn’t have her pulling her hair at the same time, realizing she had to face my father in Canada without me sure did. Within minutes, several crew members were involved in the search and an announcement over the ship’s public address system was quickly made, asking everyone to help. Soon a notification came down from the captain himself. Yours truly had managed to work his way up some flights of stairs and somehow found himself way up on the bridge itself – yes, where the captain and his delegates steer the ship. The rest of the voyage was spent mostly in our cabin and mother did eventually recover.
I am sure it was that experience that has caused me to be always super aware of the exact location of children under my care, be they mine own, or those of others, when I’m responsible for them. Perhaps it is this kind of demonstrated diligence that has allowed all our adult children to feel comfortable in letting me travel with their children, even at a young age. They know I am more concerned about what “could” happen than take chances believing “it won’t happen”. I’ve seen and read about too many split-second mishaps and a child is lost forever. You don’t take your eyes off a young child for one second at the beach. You don’t leave a young child in a car on a scorcher day for one second to go into the store. You don’t let a young child walk home from school alone through the hydro fields in the fall when the clocks haven’t been turned back yet. And you can add your own horror stories. Lives change in an instant. Yet so many are so careless with the little ones they have been blessed with. There are enough other natural causes totally beyond our control which result in the loss of a child that we should be making every effort to ensure the cause is never our lack of attentiveness.
I can’t remember how long the trip from Athens to Halifax took, but rumour has it that we were at sea, as they say, for close to two weeks. Those Greeks must have been trying to save on fuel, because anything I can find in my research says it should have taken a lot less in 1953. Still, we were thankful to see Pier 21.
Now this I remember distinctly. As we got off the boat, we entered a covered gangway which seemed to go on for some length (to be surpassed only by the distance one must walk to get to customs and then to one’s bags when getting off an Air Canada late night flight from the U.S., in Toronto’s Terminal 1). As we walked down this covered corridor, we could see in front of us a widening of the gangway into a much bigger and open space, but still high off the ground. There we were met by a male friend my father had asked to facilitate our arrival and see us safely on our way to Toronto. He escorted us to the railway station and made sure our bags and we got on the right train, in the right car, and seating in the right seats. But not without first treating us to a great spaghetti meal, my first meal in Canada, in one of the restaurants in this great hall area at the end of the wide corridor.
Can you imagine a 35-year old woman who spoke no English whatsoever and with a five-year-old energetic (but now very obedient) little boy landing in a strange land, facing customs and immigration, and having to continue her journey by train for yet another three days or so? (Today that same ride takes 27 hours.) Thank God for that man.
Clearly his involvement with my mother and I must have impressed me greatly and later influenced much of my career as I got involved in being a counselor, a mediator, a mentor, and a consultant. Nobody can make it through this life alone. Everybody needs a hand sometime. Everybody needs a little guidance, a little support, a little physical help, and a lot of encouragement. Some of us were put on this earth to provide some or all of that to those that cross our paths or call on us for help. Early in my life, and through the example of my parents with their constant demonstration of Greek hospitality (philoxenia – the love of strangers) in our home, I learned never to turn anyone away that came to me with a desire to change his/her circumstances, providing they were willing to work hard at it themselves. For example, as a counsellor I studied the Fritz Perls approach to the therapy which involved dealing with reality here and now and not seeking to find childhood experiences that we can blame our behavior on. Those I counseled had to do their homework, no excuses.
I still have a certain amount of negativity towards those that simply want a handout. I’ll help someone offering to sell me a pencil or matches, but not one who feels I need to shell out money just because I have it and they don’t. That position, however, does not sit well with me, when I try to square it up against the teachings of what I believe is expected of me as a Christian.  Some progress in this regard has come, although late in life and even now, I must admit, it still is not optimal.
Clearly this cross-Atlantic trip, my first, had a significant impact on my life. But then special events in one’s early life always have a significant impact on that person. What are the lessons here, even in that last simple statement?

One comes to mind right now. We make a great mistake when we think that “Ah, the kids are still young and they won’t be hurt by our separation or divorce”. As a marriage mentor and a separation mediator for some time, I assure you the kids will be hurt. Some of them will carry that scar for their entire life. Worse still, the behavior we will model for them due to our own desire to please ourselves, may well be repeated by them, continuing the brutal cycle of broken homes and broken lives. [Don’t get me wrong – I would never advise anyone to remain in a marriage that consists of repeated physical, verbal, or mental abuse; repeated infidelity; or a life of crime. But today, divorce has become an option of choice, pursued often so easily.]
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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

70 Is Not My Golf Score! -- 2 -- October 10, 2017

Hello world, I’m here.

On October 7, 1947, in a hospital in Athens, Greece, I experienced my first day outside my mother’s womb. I do not remember any of it. What I know about my early years, I learned from stories my parents and relatives told me much later in life.
I learned that when I was eleven months old, I had acute peritonitis. This is an inflammation of the peritoneum — a silk-like membrane that lines your inner abdominal wall and covers the organs within your abdomen — that is usually due to a bacterial or fungal infection. The Mayo Clinic says treatment of peritonitis usually involves antibiotics and, in some cases, surgery. And, if left untreated, peritonitis can lead to severe, potentially life-threatening infection throughout your body. I was one of the lucky ones who got the surgery and I ended up with a scar to prove it – in fact, one that grew with me until I stopped growing.
In those days, parents were not allowed to stay in hospitals with their children. I was told that my father hid under the bed to be with me. Whenever I think of that, I cannot help but be assured that my father loved me from the very start. I tried to model that kind of devotion for my own children, and grandchildren, although one would have to ask them as to how well I succeeded.
[As an aside, on my 70th birthday, one of my children wrote the following on social media:
Happy birthday, Dad! I told you in person but wanted to honor you here too. I wouldn’t trade you for anyone. You’re strong and smart and honest and ethical and you want to help anyone and everyone who needs you, and you endeavor to honor God in all that you do. Thank you for the example you set for me and my kids. Wishing you many, many more. Xxoo. {and she added a heart emoji}
My response was:
Thank you, sweetheart. I appreciate that. And you know how much I love you and all my kids and grandkids. I want to be a good example to you, especially as we all try to put God first. Love you lots and I pray all goes well this week with the big event at work. Your loving and very thankful and blessed, Dad.]

I only share that because I want you to know how seriously I take parenting and the importance of modeling good parenting for our children and grandchildren, just as my parents did for me. But at the same time, while things turned out well for me and so far for my children and grandchildren with respect to their role model(s), I can’t help but think of the millions of children that had to grow up either without a role model or one that they would have been better off without.
My knowledge of my experience in the hospital while still an infant also causes me to think of the millions of parents who wanted to be the desired role model their child needed, but due to war, illness, death, or divorce, were never given the chance. It is hard for me to identify with that kind of missed opportunity, the awareness of which one wakes up to every morning. And I am aware that such a loss can be felt not only by the parent who has lost a child in this way but also by the child who has lost a parent.
From pictures, I also know I was often taken to special places in Greece by one or another of my relatives who could afford doing such things more than my own folks could. I was told of my disgust at any garbage, especially the kind left behind by our four-legged friends – all of which caused me to gag and sometimes vomit. I understand my mother, for some crazy reason, used to go ahead of me whenever feasible to “clear the path”. Thus, began a ‘life of privilege’ – the privilege of being an only child; something that my wife still thinks didn’t do me any good in the years that followed.
When I was about three years old, my father, a trained cabinet-maker, left Greece to emigrate to Canada. Due to the lack of English language skills, I remember him telling me many years later that when he arrived in North America, he started working in Greek-owned restaurants washing dishes. He had washed so many dishes in two years, that if put side-by-side and they were able to support his weight, he could have walked back to Greece to get us.
Instead, two years after he had left us behind in Athens, he sent us enough money to take the Greek ocean liner, Nea Ellas, and make our own way, in early 1953, to the brave new world.
One other story that I will never forget was that my father, for the first year or so of his life in Toronto, had never been told about how the public transportation transfer system worked, and each time he had to transfer from a bus going one direction to one going in a perpendicular direction, he would drop another fare in the ticket box – an unnecessary cost.
His story of the dishes engrained in me an understanding of how loving parents so often sacrifice themselves so their children could have a better life. I don’t see that similar sacrificing as much these days, especially from second and third generation immigrant parents.
His story regarding transfers on the public system helped me to understand the needs of new immigrants to any nation and the importance of taking the time to show them how things work in their new homeland. Who knows, had someone taken the time to share with my dad how to use transfers, he may have saved hundreds of dollars over the period and brought us over earlier.

When my mother and I left Athens, heading for the now famous Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia (the ocean liner terminal and immigration shed from 1928 to 1971 where over one million immigrants came into Canada, and the last surviving seaport immigration facility in the country), we were leaving behind many beloved relatives that we may have never seen again – either because of affordability, or because of their age or health. They tell me the tears both on the dock and on the ship’s deck were flowing freely and sometimes to the point where people had to be escorted by others away from the scene. Such was the way my first journey across the Atlantic began.

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Monday, October 09, 2017

Debatable Cause, Undeniable Consequences

The Incidental Jihadi:
An Alternative Point of View
Author: Samrat Mitra
Publisher: Self-published, San Bernardino, CA, 2017
                                                                     

This is a novel about the modern-day war in the Middle East. The author states the events depicted, though, are not fictional. They can be found documented on the Internet. They provide “an alternative point of view” for consideration. It isn’t pretty.
It is the story of a young geologist/surveyor that is sent on an assignment to the Golan Heights during the ongoing so-called ‘holy war’. Through a series of events, the otherwise short trip turns into over half a decade of astonishment, stress, separation, and remorse for him and his family for this young Israeli, a naturalized citizen of Great Britain. His wife and child are taken hostage, he personally gets involved in the Syrian War, suffers post-traumatic stress disorder, and makes a daring attempt to rescue his loved ones.
The story is told in the first person by the main character’s post-traumatic event’s namesake. With its beginning in New York after the main plot has occurred, and it’s returning there near the end of the story, the book reminds me of that famous movie, Dr. Zhivago, and the intermediate story in Samrat Mitra’s book is just as fast-moving and gripping. I found the book reading so much like real life. As a follower of more conservative media sources, much of the content in the events depicted rang a bell, although a most discordant one.
Mitra gives us some interesting insights into our own collective personality and experience as a global society. For example, he writes early in the book, “Recorded video posted on websites around the globe from the first-person point of view turned us into voyeurs for violence.” And then shares the consequences of such viewings when he writes, “Our admission ticket to view the spectacle is not the price we pay to view them, [but the fact that we become desensitized] to the world around us, [accepting it], and [living] happily in denial.”
Please note: While the copy I reviewed was a beta version and needed some editing which the author is pursuing, it was still very readable and in fact, added to the authenticity of the story being told.
The author also has a yen for asking some very difficult questions that can be applied repeatedly to the matter of how we handle news of war and terrorism and abuse and may I add all the ‘dark’ issues involving life and death. He writes or more correctly warns, “Do we have an option but not to pay a heavy price for our past neglect and transgressions?
But there’s more to the main character than discovering oil, fighting wars, and making dangerous rescue attempts. In the process, he shares with us some very insightful understandings of love and romance, some thoughts that the average person would never admit to. One such example is, “Sadly, the intensity of affection [demonstrated by] one lover [towards his/her beloved] is never equaled by [that of] the other.”
Samrat Mitra has a wonderful way of bringing a person’s faith into his story and at one point has the main character’s wife asking, “Why did God choose to test us, what did we do wrong?” It’s a question many readers can identify with and the author’s answer, through the main character, is well worth discovering.
There is also no shortage of commentary on war, terrorism, the role of big business in global politics, war’s effects on the family, trust, and hope.
The book has several surprising endings, some perhaps that could leave a reader stunned. Still, the author succeeds in what I believe was his key objective – to deliver a warning to all the world that the conflict now taking place in the Middle East, whether we like it or not, is now “finally shading the world in darker inevitable shades.”
Highly recommended to anyone who is concerned about life and death beyond the borders of their daily commute.

·      Ken B. Godevenos, President, Accord Resolutions Services Inc., Toronto, Ontario, October 9, 2017. www.accordconsulting.com

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Also, I’ve read some good books and make some great recommendations for you at http://astore.amazon.com/accorconsu-20 which you can purchase right from there.

Check our firm out at Accord Consulting.