Thursday, March 10, 2011

Stronger through Adversity?

So let's see,
Pater had the boat taken in for its annual motor check-up and conditioning and found that the (saltwater) corrosion noted last year had accelerated and it was time to replace. So we've done that, but let me tell you that 50hp. 4-strokes are not cheap. Not. Added for clarification: Ours is a commuter boat, for getting back and forth from our island home to town where we work and shop and connect with the rest of the world.

Then we took the taxes to the accountant, pleased that we were organized enough to get them done before leaving, since they have to be filed just as we're getting back home. Turns out that in the switch from regular paycheques to pension, $5000 too little had been withheld from Pater's cheques. So we need to come up with that $5000 before we return. Meanwhile, we'll be spending, not saving!

My union began strike action today, after months and months and months of hoping the employer might at least come to the bargaining table eventually. Because my Research Leave had begun before the work stoppage, I will continue to be paid my 70%. Although this obviously helps keep the bank account afloat, it doesn't ease my guilt or my worry for my colleagues. Not to mention my concern about an increasingly adversarial and demoralizing workplace.  However, all reports are that the first day's picketing was marked by impressive solidarity, including many students who came to show their support for what faculty are doing. Note that we are not striking for more wages, nor are we absolutely insistent that there be no layoffs at all. But we do want to have an important Financial Exigency Clause, standard at most universities, which sets out the conditions under which cuts be made and the way those are made in order to preserve academic integrity. Otherwise, of course, any notion of tenure becomes, well, un-tenable.

I would have been standing alongside the picket lines in solidarity today, except that I just found out that an old friend I never see anymore -- do you have those? people with whom you absolutely connect, with whom you share a history, values, interests, can natter on for hours if you bump into each other, but with whom you don't deliberately arrange visits? -- has been diagnosed, after years of encroaching symptoms, either ignored, or explained away, with a degenerative, likely terminal, neurological disease. As soon as I heard this, I was determined to visit G. before we went away, given that seven weeks could take her further down the path she's on. I haven't seen her for at least two years, and I was shocked at the change. Parkinsonism prevails, she's shrunken and swollen, her eyes somewhat fixed, she explained, by the neurology. But we had a wonderful visit. Her passionate intellect, her open, engaging warmth, her absolute lack of self-pity, her still-intact sense of humour and her ability to be fabulously outrageous -- all still there, if slowed down because of speech impairment.  Because she can't quite trust her body anymore, she's not getting out much, and she misses the intellectual stimulation of lectures, art galleries, concerts, and good old arguments more than anything else.

In the face of G's challenges, the difficulties of this week, mainly financial, after all, are negligible (although her celebration of an intellectual life strengthened my resolve to stand in solidarity with my colleagues against an ever-swelling university administration adoption of a Corporate model).  Her challenges not only remind me of my obvious good fortune, but they remind me that such fortune is tenuous. Rather than weaken its value, this fragility demands that fortune be grasped while it can -- and that it be shared.  The dark shadow of G's illness will encroach on my time in Europe, I know.  Afternoon glasses of red wine will be interrupted with a memory that she suffers. But if we have that time left to us, I will visit her when I get back and regale her with stories and pictures. And thank her for reminding me, for letting me see through eyes that hurt, thus treasure . . .

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