Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Word Wonder -- at sixes and sevens

Tuesday, January 27, 2010

I am at sixes and sevens as to the precise origin of this expression, because people who make a living figuring out such stuff aren't even sure. But I can certainly tell you what it means. Being at sixes and sevens means a person or situation is in a state of confusion or uncertainty. I can also tell you that it has been in use since before 1375. But more about that in a minute.

Three theories exist for this ancient expression: the Bible, the guilds, and a game. The least likely of the three arises from the story of a dispute between two guilds in the old City of London. Guilds were a sort of blend of today's unions, cartels, and secret societies. Formed to protect their members' interests, they were rated in terms of political power, access to markets, quality of work, and favour with monarchs or city officials. This competition made a guild's standing crucial. It seems that in 1484, the Tailors Guild and the Skinners Guild were vying for position at the level of sixth and seventh places. To settle the problem, the Lord Mayor pulled a King Solomon trick and decreed that henceforth the two guilds would alternate positions each year.

The trouble with this engaging story is that way back in 1375, over a hundred years before the guilds' dispute, Geoffrey Chaucer wrote the words "to set the world on six and seven" in Troilus and Criseyde. From its context, Chaucer means "to hazard the world" or "to risk one's life." Other writers in the following century also used the term. So although the citizens of 1484-London might have popularized the expression by poking fun at the pun-worthy situation with the tailors and the skinners, the guildish disagreement could not have given birth to the expression.

Another possibility for the expression's origin is the Bible. Some have wondered if it came from Job 5:19 where Job's friend, Eliphas the Temanite, sat with Job to mourn with him and comfort him in his extreme troubles. Eliphas encouraged Job to trust in the greatness of God, saying, "For he maketh sore, and bindeth up: he woundeth, and his hands make whole. He shall deliver thee in six troubles: yea, in seven there shall no evil touch thee." The consensus among numerous sources is that this conversation is not the source of "at sixes and sevens" because the meaning is not the same; Job was mourning, not confused.

So, the likely winner is...the game. A pre-Chaucer French dice game called "hazard" was loaded with complicated rules. One requirement was for players to "set on" certain combinations when they rolled the dice. According to the rules, if a player "set on sinque and cise (five and six)," he was deemed to be very careless or confused. It seems that over time some non-French speakers learned the game and misheard the numbers. They thought they heard "six and seven," based on the way "cinque and cise" sounded to their English ears.

Because there is no single die with seven dots, this may have reinforced the concept of being confused and careless for daring to set on the riskiest roll of the dice -- almost like setting on an impossible six and seven. In addition, since six and seven add up to thirteen, this unlucky number would compound the judgment of that player's being a greatly confused person. In time, the expression changed to "stand on six and seven" and "to be left at six and seven." Still further on, the words were pluralized, bringing us to today's "at sixes and sevens" -- the state of feeling confused and uncertain about a situation or decision.

Monday, January 25, 2010

I Hate That Life is Not a Fairy Tale...sort of

January 25, 2010

Ah, fairy tales...those sweet stories that have animals falling down stairs and little girls being forced into years-long servitude and innocent children getting lost in the bush and then cooked and eaten by nasty witches. What joys abound in children's literature.

If my life were like those fairy tales, I'd be in really big trouble. Fortunately, it's not. Unfortunately, it isn't always like the happy-happy, joy-joy side of fairy tales, either.

So, what to do, what to do... Well, as most people of a certain age discover, I've learned to recognize and accept that life comes in waves. The painful follows the ecstatic, which follows the frustrating, which follows the satisfying. 'Round and 'round it goes, with no clear beginning and no clear end.

However, what is clear to me is that all of us have what we need to make this time better than a previous time. It doesn't matter whether we're talking about seconds or decades. We can choose how to feel and think, what to say and do. We can choose to fix our mistakes or at least not repeat them. Believing these things helps me a lot, a lot of the time.

When it doesn't help, I keep in mind the sage words imparted to me recently by a student of mine: "Well, then, just suck it up, Buttercup."

Friday, January 22, 2010

Word Wonder -- kind

Friday, January 22, 2010

1. Gentle and considerate in behavior; goodhearted; benign. Archaic affectionate; loving. 4. Obsolete Natural; appropriate; lawful.  [from the Old English word gecynde]

1. A class or grouping; type; variety. 2. The distinguishing nature or character of something. 3. Obsolete Nature in general; the ordained and proper order of things. [from the Old English word gecynd]
- Funk & Wagnalls Canadian College Dictionary

The word "kind" and its many relatives came from the Old English words gecynde and gecynd, two virtually identical descendants of the ancient Indo-European root, genə-. The root "genə-" means "to give birth or to beget." Many of the words that derive from this root have to do with procreation and with family and tribal groups: gender, general, generate, generic, genesis, genital, genius, genre, gentle, genuine, genus, germ, germinate, ingenious, innate, kin, king, natal, nation, native, nature, nee, noel, pregnant. Quite a list!
- Dictionary of the English Language

Notice that the dictionary entries above give several archaic and obsolete uses of the word "kind": affectionate, loving, natural, appropriate, lawful, nature in general, and the ordained and proper order of things. These older uses of the word provide a bridge from our modern understanding of "kind" back to the original meanings having to do with procreation, family, and the tribe.

This investigation of the word "kind" took me much deeper than just the academic examination of words and roots. It engendered images in my mind of ancient people living together in their family and tribal groups. Doing my best to go beyond sentiment and the visuals portrayed in Hollywood movies, I probed within myself for the feelings and facts of everyday life back then -- the requirement that families stick together and that tribes grow stronger by having children and staying close to kin who could be relied upon to protect and nurture. The root, genə-, implies that people have always seen the need for not only physical survival but emotional connection, as well.

They would have seen animals caring for their young. They would have witnessed birth, death, and regeneration and would have known they were part of it all. Genə- would have been a basic concept of everyday life. And so their languages, which developed out of everyday life, also shaped everyday life. Today we are the same-- part of birth and death cycles, shaping language and daily activities to meet our needs and the needs of those around us.

Most people value being part of a group, whether it's their family, a club or church, or a larger community or culture. Yet many, many people do not feel they belong anywhere. Whether we face our "own kind," whatever that means to each of us, or we face "others," we can choose to see the connections of genə-, of begetting and being kind and gentle, of the natural order of our connection to one another.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Excuses, Excuses...?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

For some reason, I haven't been able to get anything written on this blog for the past week and a bit. Couldn't think of a topic, focused on other projects, whatever. I'm not sure. Sometimes I find it's hard to tell the difference between an excuse and a reason.

Was it reasonable to work on other writing projects so much that my committment to regularly write on my blog lapsed? Hard to say, since my committment to those other projects is strong, too. That might -- might -- count as a reason. Maybe the extra time daily tasks have taken as a result of living on crutches for the week constitutes a reason. However, because of the knee and the crutches, I've also spent a lot of time maybe I could have gotten to the blog after all? Such a quandry. It's certain that playing those second and third games of solitaire (nearly every day) is an excuse. Okay, that was too easy.

In mulling this over, I've not only come up with a topic for today, I've also seen yet another way our upbringing, gender, culture, age and other factors affect us. Reasons and excuses are both closely tied up in what we have been taught about work and leisure, success and failure, a person's value. As life goes on, we add to those teachings or change them, but it can sometimes be hard to shake loose old ideas that don't actually work for us anymore.

So, for me? I'm deciding today to be grateful for the positive examples of encouragement, honest effort, and satisfying results with which I was raised and to add a dose of forgiveness. Then I'll try not to let this happen again, but if it does, I guess I'll have to consider writing about time management.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Some Thoughts on Grief - Part 3

January 11, 2010

This is the final article in a series I've posted over the last three days. I wrote the series on grief with Cathy Piper, a registered nurse with a particular interest in palliative care and bereavement. Published in The Manitoulin Expositor in May 2008, the articles briefly discuss the grieving process. All quotations are taken from The Journey Through Grief, by Alan D. Wolfelt.

Moving on From Grief
In this last part of our brief series on grief, we’ll talk about moving on from grief. Keep in mind that the grief we are talking about can involve any sort of loss – a loved one, a job, a childhood, a home, and so on.

It’s not unusual to sometimes feel guilty during the grieving and healing process. Some people feel guilty when they discover advantages in the changes that have occurred, such as more time to spend with other family and friends, a preference for the new home after all, more money, or less responsibility. Some feel guilty the first time they laugh or the first day they don’t think of their departed loved one. Such feelings of guilt come from the changes life brings and are a natural part of responding to those changes. But they are not wrong or bad, and they do not mean you don’t or didn’t care. Let the feelings of guilt go by acknowledging them and reminding yourself that life really does go on and that it is a good thing to be able to enjoy it.

Another aspect of the grieving process is the unpredictable nature of memories. During the early phases of grieving, memories can come pouring in and threaten to overwhelm you. They can pop up at the worst times and refuse to leave, even when you have things you just have to do, like sleep or go to work or make supper. Memories often bring on floods of tears, feelings of anger, and a renewed sense of loss. As with guilt and all other aspects of grief that we have discussed, such remembering ups and downs are normal. In fact, they are helpful and necessary because they help us place the person, relationship, or previous state of health in the past, where it actually does reside.

Though thinking of this reality can be hard, it is natural and necessary because learning to move on from relationships or abilities or circumstances that have changed is the nature of life. Nothing can be gained by refusing to move forward, except that you may very well add burdens to your life that keep you stuck and make you unwell.

Instead, use your feelings and memories to honour and remember the people and circumstances that have gone. Enjoy and be grateful for their presence in your life for the time they were there. Discover and appreciate the lessons you’ve learned and the challenges and fun you’ve experienced because of them. Use those lessons and pleasures to enhance your life today. By appreciating and accepting the past, you will be able to live a more satisfying today and look forward to many promising tomorrows.

“Memories are my treasures…they carry my story, my song, my light. As I long for peace, I carry my memory torch with me, a vital link in the chain of humanity.”

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Some Thoughts on Grief - Part 2

January 10, 2010

Here is the second part of the series I wrote about grief with Cathy Piper, a registered nurse with an interest in palliative care and grief. Published in The Manitoulin Expositor in May 2008, the articles briefly discuss the grieving process. All quotations are taken from The Journey Through Grief, by Alan D. Wolfelt.

Feeling the Grief in Its Many Forms

Yesterday we wrote about the nature of grief, that it is a natural human response to any sort of loss – of a loved one, a job or home, good health, and so on. By acknowledging loss and its natural feelings of pain and anger, you can move through grief and come out on the other side. Feeling these feelings is not a sign of weakness. In fact, by allowing yourself to actually feel what you feel, you will become stronger and will be able to live with your loss in a balanced way. By asking for help and by honouring your needs for both solitude and company, you can keep going.

As the feelings of grief come and go, you might feel like you’re lost in a terrible and empty wasteland. “Grief creates a natural disorientation…a kind of emotional and spiritual wilderness. In loss comes a period of emptiness, aloneness…new life has not yet emerged.”

It is so important and helpful to allow your sadness and confusion to run their course – with help and support. Trusted friends and family, clergy and counsellors, books and other information can all help you along the way. The fact that death and other losses are a common part of life does not mean you have to “get over it” in a certain period of time, as is so often what people believe. The healthy course of grieving allows you to work your loss into the fabric of your life; it does not have to rip it apart beyond repair.

Many people try to protect themselves from the sadness, anger and emptiness of grief by not talking or even thinking about it. Certainly there are times when you do just have to get on with the business of living, but just as certainly, there are times when it’s important to deal with what is inside you – including difficult feelings. In fact, trying to avoid the pain at all costs actually increases the pain, by prolonging it longer than necessary and causing it to “go underground.” When difficult feelings get pushed down, they almost inevitably show up again in the forms of depression, sleeplessness, illness, anger, drug and alcohol abuse, discontent, and so on.

The natural and necessary feelings of anger, fear, confusion, sadness, guilt and emptiness that follow a loss can be very draining. However, they are also signals that something needs to be done to move forward – talk to someone, have a good cry, sit in silence, write in a journal, go for a walk or hard workout, hug a loved one. These small acts, over time, bring acceptance and healing. Pain, confusion and anger diminish. You find yourself smiling more, enjoying favourite pastimes again instead of just going through the motions. Eventually, you can feel excitement again and even look toward the future without dismay. Despair lessens to sadness, then melancholy and, finally, acceptance and peace.

“I don’t have to go in search of the pain of grief…it finds me. It’s when I deny or insulate myself from the pain of the loss that I shut down. Ironically, it is in being open to the pain that I move through it to renewed living.”

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Some Thoughts on Grief - Part 1

January 9, 2010

Together with Cathy Piper, a registered nurse with an interest in palliative care and grief, I offered a grief support group for four weeks in June 2008. As a prelude to the group, we wrote a three-part series in which we briefly discussed the nature of grief. The articles were published in The Manitoulin Expositor in May 2008. (All quotations in the articles are taken from Alan D. Wolfelt’s book, The Journey Through Grief.)

Here is that series of articles, which I will post in the same three parts over the next three days:

What is grief?

Grieving is something we do…in response to a loss, any kind of significant loss. It might be the loss of a job, a relationship, friends, a beloved pet, your home, or the loss of your childhood or your culture. Maybe you feel the loss of your beliefs or your language, or you no longer feel needed and wanted. It is common, though often not recognized, for people to grieve over countless changes and losses. And every person responds to grief in a different way and at a different pace. There is no road map that grief has to follow.

Grief comes from deep within and finds its way out in various forms, from crying and wailing, to seeking silence and seclusion, to talking it out. These healing forms of grieving help you go deep inside and walk through the pain to emerge on the other side. When loss and grief are not acknowledged, people sometimes try to bury their feelings with alcohol and other drugs or they keep so busy they won’t feel; however, these destructive paths can lead to depression, physical illness and suicide.

With the support and love of family, friends and, sometimes, trained helpers, it is very possible to move through grief rather than try to go around it by not feeling it. “Acknowledging reality brings pain. As I open myself to feel the total sense of loss, I discover I cannot do this grief work alone. I will need the love and support of those who understand the depths of this journey. Most of all I will need to be around people who are truly compassionate.”

Healing in grief is heart-based, not head-based. The depth of your very soul is exposed, and you enter into new realms to find healing. “The reality of this death/loss demands my attention. As I move from head understanding to heart understanding, I know with burning certainty that life is forever changed. I arrive at this new place unprepared for the journey ahead. How will I set forth?”

“The head, the heart and the soul must all come to embrace the reality of the death/loss. It is the soul that gives life to the head and the heart. I may know the reality of the death/loss in my head, but I must also let it sift down into my heart and soul.”

Silence and solitude, friends and family, all combined, are necessary for your journey through the pain of grief. “As I experience my grief, I am pulled to be both alone and together with others. I realize I need both. The beauty of it is that I have discovered I can embrace both needs. What an important revelation!”

Friday, January 8, 2010

Break the Silent Trap of Sexual Abuse

January 8, 2010
A couple of days ago I listened to a CBC radio interview with a woman named Linda Deschamp. She is suing the diocese in her area for ongoing, long-term sexual abuse she claims to have suffered at the hands of a priest. I have to use the word "claims" here, as her case has not yet gone to trial.

Theo Fleury, a former NHL Canadian hockey player who was also sexually abused as a teenager, recently released a book, Playing with Fire. In his book, Fleury names the same coach who was convicted for sexually abusing another hockey player, Sheldon Kennedy.

My reason for mentioning these people is to encourage other women and men, children and teens who have been sexually abused. Just as Sheldon, Theo and Linda have done, you can find someone to trust. You can find someone who will believe and support you. You may or may not write about it or launch a law suit; that's up to you. What's most important is that you discover that the shame of sexual abuse is not your shame. You are not responsible if someone abused you sexually. However, you can, now, do a great deal to help yourself heal from that abuse.

It is definitely not easy to say the words out loud: "I was sexually abused. It happened to me."

Sometimes it takes a long time to break the silence that engulfs abuse, as it did for Linda, Sheldon and Theo. Sometimes, due to the slowly changing climate of awareness, victims of abuse find someone to tell fairly soon. Whichever way it goes for you, know that you are not alone now, even if you were when the abuse was happening. Many people want to help you and know how to help.

Please tell somebody. If that person doesn't believe you or know how to help, tell somebody else. This is your life and your future. Keep at it until you find the help you need. You are so absolutely worth it.

Check out my earlier posts on sexual abuse for more information and resources:
Head + Heart + Hands + Feet = Action
Healing is Possible
What is Sexual Abuse or Assault?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Mark Your Calendar -- January

January 7, 2010

In all times and in all places, humans love to mark and celebrate special times, events, people, even things. I enjoy the celebratory nature of birthdays and some holidays. Like many people, however, I'm less impressed with the commercialization of them. But as in all things, we have a choice in what we do and how we do it. To that end, (but mainly for fun) I've been compiling a list of days, weeks and months that have been marked -- by someone, at some point in time. Some of them seem like a bit of a stretch, but what the heck.

The list is extraordinarily long, so I'll only include observations that relate to this blog -- relationships, healing, growth and writing. Well, and a few others that bear repeating, such as the Oatmeal, Tea and Soup observances, which I just think are cool. Try searching the Internet for information on any that intrigue you.

For January, I've found numerous observances, including one called "International Quality of Life Month." I don't know who came up with the day or why they established it, but I think a month of appreciating one's quality of life is a great idea. My other personal favourites for January are:
  • Book Blitz Month
  • Be On-Purpose Month
  • Celebration of Life Month
  • International Creativity Month
  • Get Organized Month
  • National Mentoring Month
  • Oatmeal Month
  • National Hot Tea Month
  • National Soup Month (The sponsor of this one won't come as a surprise.)
To finish off, consider observing the following at work, home and school. We're still within the boundaries of both weeks, so there's time...
  • National Thank Your Customers Week, January 4-8
  • Women's Self-empowerment Week, January 4-10
I've found several sources for this information. The two sources I'll mention are an American and a Canadian site, respectively:

  1. "Chase's Calendar of Events today is the most comprehensive and authoritative reference available on special [world-wide] events, holidays, federal and state observances, historic anniversaries and more. Each spring, thousands of new entries are submitted to join the more than 12,000 items that make up each year's book. Each event listing (where applicable) contains contact and mailing information. There is no charge to be listed in Chase's. Each new edition appears in late September preceding the year in question."
  2. Work Smart. Live Smart., a site in which Canadian "stress speaker and wellness specialist, Beverly Beuermann-King, CSP, translates current research and best practices information into a realistic, accessible and practical approach through her dynamic stress and wellness workshops, on-line stress and wellness articles, e-newsletters and media interviews."
So, take a break from the mundane. Be creative. Find and honour a mentor. Become a mentor. Empower yourself and thank your customers, right after you've fortified  yourself with porridge and a cup of something warm. Celebrate life in your own way.