If only . . .

Cogitation 51 “WINTER BLEND,” declares the eye-catching label on a bag of coffee beans, followed in smaller print by, “A rich and harmonious balance of sweet plum and dark chocolate notes. / Un equilibre riche et harmonieux de prune sucree et notes de chocolate noir.” I’m in! The image of a bundled up, rosy-cheeked model about to take a sip of possibly a cafe au lait, blends whimsy with winter.

Cup in hand, I greeted this last morning of Autumn with a brief standing reprieve in the sunshine on our patio. May there be a rich and harmonious balance between season past and season present.

On the coffee bag I’m pleased to read that “The Loring Smart roaster reduces energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80% compared to a conventional roaster.” Hear! Hear! A steaming cup of thanks to conscientious roasters everywhere, and there are many.

If only . . .

If only the ills of the world could be cast in a rich and harmonious balance. Instead, we face a barrage of inharmonious and imbalanced goings on around, among, and even in, us. Advent is a time of being in darkness, waiting for the new light dawning.

I welcome times to address ills of the world in person over a cup of coffee, a meal, or a small group. One dare not be silent. In looking at the present through the lens of the past I try to find equilibrium, perspective, balance, hopefulness. For one, I’m tremendously encouraged by corrective, often unheralded, actions taking place around us.

Wherever we look, we can see people creating change for the better. This week I read an online article by Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin Airlines. The coffee they serve on-board, called Tom’s Blend, comes from Change Please, a business founded five years ago by Cemal Ezel. “I’m so impressed by the way Change Please is using business as a force for good” Branson writes, ” by training homeless people to become professional baristas and serve award-winning coffee in recyclable cups, from suppliers that pay a living wage.” This week from Virgin.com, 17 December.

If only aging had a fountain of care

“Anyone born healthy begins life with organs working far better than they need to,” writes Louise Aronson in ELDERHOOD: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimaging Life (Thorndike Press, 2019). It’s called redundancy. “Our eyes, ears, lungs, kidneys, ovaries, or testes are redundant because most of us have two of them, although we can manage well enough with just one, even one that’s less than perfect.”

Aronson adds, “Our single organs also have enough excess capacity that they can decline yet continue to function adequately under normal conditions.” As one ages, we decline “in our ability to self-regulate and maintain equilibrium under duress.” For example, thinning bones seem not to matter until you fall. Climbing stairs may mean pausing for breath. And so on.

But, a big but, that’s only one way of looking at aging. It’s looking at older people through the lens of medicalization. “Most of us are far more interested in what we can do at the level of the whole human than in what’s going on with our parts,” Aronson continues. She roots for the needed services of nutritionists, physical therapists, and social workers. “Old age gets blamed for people’s declining health when our strictly medical approach to care leaves out or limits services and treatments for many of the conditions that make old age more challenging.”

Louise Aronson is a geriatrician, educator, and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, where she directs UCSF Medical Humanities.

The quotes are from around page 300 of this 850-page large print edition. I have 300 pages to go. It’s an excellent work, underscoring the substance of the subtitle at every turn. Aronson weaves a vision “of old age that’s neither nightmare nor fantasy–a vision full of joy, wonder, frustration, outrage, and hope about aging.”

If only humor had more voices

The voice of Stephen Leacock (1869-1944) reverberates throughout his books. He words speak to us today. He wrote on history and political economy, but his passion shows through in books on humour.

In recent weeks I’ve read my remarkable uncle (1942) and Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (1912). The former is a collection of short stories in sections titled Some Memories, Literary Studies, Sporting Section, Studies in Humour, Memories of Christmas, and Goodwill Stuff.

Whatever the subject, once you read a few lines, Leacock has you hooked. I quote from an article by Gerald Lynch in The Canadian Encyclopedia

“An old-school Tory [Conservative], he valued the community over the individual, organic growth over radical change, and the middle way over extreme deviation. Such values form the basis of Leacock’s satiric norm, the authorial position from which he attacked rampant individualism, materialism and worship of technology. Although frequently unfaithful to his credo that humour be kindly–he was at times racist, anti- feminist and downright ornery–the unique combination of compassion and caustic wit remain the elements which accord his humour a timelessness few Canadian writers have achieved.”

The same article asserts that “Leacock was the English-speaking world’s best-known humourist in the years 1915-25.”

In my remarkable uncle, Leacock gives a distantly (late 1800s) true picture of his uncle Edward Philip Leacock, the lead story in the book. “The most remarkable man I have ever known in my life was my uncle Edward Philip Leacock–known to ever so many people in Winnipeg fifty or sixty years ago as E.P. His character was so exceptional that it needs nothing but plain narration. It was so exaggerated already that you couldn’t exaggerate it.”

E.P. had a penchant for getting things for free, that is, weaseling out of financial obligations. For instance, on a letterhead he is president of a railway to the Arctic, but it has no rails. That does not stop him from getting free passage on other railways. E.P. used his winsomeness, flamboyance, a flatterers flatterer, when financial reverses set in, to con creditors with promises of payment that never materialized. E.P. would not kindly fit into today’s world. One needs to read his nephew’s account to appreciate how something good can shine through a rough cut.

There’s poetic justice for E.P. at the end of his life. He lives out his years in a monastery in England, in the area from where the extended family had emigrated to Canada. I’ll not spoil the story by giving away the ending, but E.P. made an honest, lasting contribution to the lay-brothers’ community. You’ll find this and the other stories equally engaging.

Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town contains one of my favourite short stories, “The Marine Excursion of the Knights of Pythias.” The Mariposa Belle at half past six on a July morning “is at the wharf, decked in flags, with steam up ready to start.” It’s an Excursion Day like no other. Worth finding in your library, bookstore or at the public library. The whole book of short stories shows why “This may well be the funniest book ever written by a Canadian–at least intentionally.”

In 1899, Leacock married Beatrix Hamilton, an actress, the same year he was accepted into a PhD program in economics and political science at the University of Chicago. At McGill University in Montreal, he taught in and later became head of the Department of Economics and Political Science. In 1925, Leacock’s wife died of breast cancer. In 1928, he moved to Orillia, Ontario, where he built this house. It is now a museum and in 1992 was declared a National Historic Site. We visited the museum in October 2019.

Niece Barbara Nimmo in an Afterword in Sunshine Sketches commented on Leacock’s take on growing old. “For him, ‘the reality of life . . . is in the living tissue of it from day to day, not in the expectation of better, nor in the fear of worse.’

If only trees could talk

Lett: Josh Kinder, Marie Troyer and Steve Thomas hold up a quilted wall hanging, a gift to Thomas for his leadership as transitional pastor at Prairie Street Mennonite Church, Elkhart. Troyer quilted the scene of trees, water and sky. Kinder is congregational treasurer. “The wall hanging is not only a lovely work of art,” Thomas said, “but a fitting image for me holding trees and the church together in the next stage of my work.” Thomas, also an arborist, will give more time to work with Mennonite Creation Care Network.

Today we attended the memorial service for Harold Weaver, born 1925, a former work colleague. The music, memories, sermon were liminal, heaven and earth balanced in a thin space. Heaven is ever near and here.

If only lessons were so tasty

Greencroft Goshen themed it’s annual Christmas tea for residents on the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. We gathered at round tables with plates laden with meatballs, shrimp, potato sticks, cheese and crackers, veggies and spinach dip. Wassail or coffee followed with an enticing assortment of sweets laid out in the library.

The angel Clarence, from the movie, graced the dessert table, sculpted in ice. Wonderful! After the tea people could watch the movie in the adjacent Jennings Auditorium.

Thank you, Greencroft Goshen, for a tasty, thought-provoking, celebratory tea!

If only I had a magic wand

If only I had a magic wand, I’d split it in two and give one-half to you. Barring that, I’ll continue to think kindly of what we can do together to give the world, this season, it’s due of a rich and harmonious balance.

Peace, joy, blessing, health, happiness, hope, resilience, courage for you and those dear to you, and for all creation and peoples everywhere.

From Marty and John: Merry/Happy Christmas!

9 thoughts on “If only . . .

  1. Well, if only I had a magic wand one of the things I would do is transport myself instantly into your living room and maybe have a cup of Balzac coffee and wish you a merry Christmas in person. Failing that I’ll just say happy holidays from afar. Maybe I’ll take some time out and watch ITS A WONDERFUL LIFE too. I just won’t have all those wonderful goodies you had.
    Merry Christmas,


  2. Thanks, John, for another year of informative and entertaining epistles! Your Christmas Tea at Greencroft sounds lovely…what a nice tradition! We send Christmas greetings and hope for peace in the world and within ourselves.

    Monty & Ginger

    My iPad says that a smile always increases your Face Value!



  3. John & Marty,
    Hope Christmas was Merry, and we wish you both a Joyous New Year.
    We enjoy your blog!
    Warm wishes,
    Grace & Don


  4. The weekly blessing of receiving your amazing thoughts and descriptions of experiences is both humbling and edifying. The photographs are so vital and rich in meaning! Gratitude for our friendship flows freely. Love and continued joy to you and Marty.


    1. Thanks, Marcia. Marty and I have so much to be grateful for, your friendship and opportunities to indulge our elder years. More!


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