The Meek, the Gentle, the Butchers
2 August 2019

Thunder Bay, 9.4kms

I have inherited many things from my parents. A great love of books and animals, my brisk gait, punctuality that verges on the pathological and a nose which, glimpsed in profile in the bathroom mirror or store front windows, even now, startles me. They also instilled in me a very clear sense of right and wrong.

It was never going to be a good run. I’m tired and reaching the end of a 42 day rotation, a little burnt out and my lower back is playing its usual games. I haven’t run in a week as our treadmill went the way of the dodo. All of these factors are exacerbated by my not being able to eat properly as our ‘chef’ aboard seems to have based his entire menu on that of a 1970s Holiday Inn buffet, back when bacon and industrial quantities of mayonnaise were the primary ingredients of a ‘salad’ (sic.)

Of late I have felt a growing sense of despair and dread, and this isn’t just when I see what is for lunch (though when I do I can hear Marlon Brando whispering in my ear ‘The horror. The horror). This anxiety is almost dizzying at times. I have a persistent feeling of having forgotten something very important, a lightness in my stomach like when I look over a cliff edge from a great height. I’ve been having recurring dreams where I cry. And I mean fucking cry. Great, gut-wrenching, lung emptying, oceans of tears.

We are, most of us, brought up with a sense of justice, a moral compass, but all around me I see only an absence of this. As a culture, we have become intellectually lazy, many seem content to stare at their screens and only read and listen to that which bolsters and consolidates their already myopic world view. The days of debate and constructive discussion seem to have been replaced by slander, finger pointing and bile. In an epoch where information is at our fingertips, some people seem content with half-truths and lies. Odysseus tied himself to the mast and stuffed honeycomb in his ears to avoid being lured to his doom by the siren’s song. Well it’s time we do the same. Bust out the rope, lest you too be seduced by it.

The view out onto Lake Superior is stunning from the shores of Thunder Bay. The Sleeping Giant juts out from the mainland to the east and table top mountains abut my line of sight to the west, and in between an archipelago of tree filled islands. But behind me is a different story. Thunder Bay is a town that has been in decline for the last 30 years. And there is the terrible problem within the native community of alcohol and drug abuse and suicide. Right now there is a nation-wide man hunt for a couple piece of shit teenage boys who went on a killing spree. Their 3 victims happened to be white. For some reason this has attracted international attention, when over the last 40 years dozens of indigenous women have been murdered on this same stretch of highway and no one bats an eye lid. Until recently it was barely even reported in Canada. Something is horribly broken and no amount of apologies will fix it.

It is no secret that one of the great tragedies of western culture is our treatment of indigenous peoples. I recently read This Native Life by Richard Wagamese. Part memoir, part Ojibway teachings. There is more kindness, decency and wisdom in that book than anything I have garnered in my three readings of the Old Testament. The west are the gate-crashers of civilization. You remember those dicks who showed up at house parties when we were teenagers. Uninvited and belligerent. Often breaking things. Violent. We have appropriated that which should never have had ownership and treat the world with a take take take mentality, with no sense of responsibility, sustainability or recompense. Camus wrote ‘The world is beautiful and outside it there is no salvation.’ Let us have no truck with this notion of an afterlife. We don’t deserve one and if there were an Elysium some motherfucker would be vying for the drilling rights. This is our paradise and we are destroying it for generations to come.

I memorized a passage of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar when I was a teenager and I have been repeating it over and over like a mantra.

‘O pardon me,
thou bleeding piece of earth.
That I am meek and gentle
with these butchers.’