Written on the Body, #32, March 6, 2021: Some Uncertainty Resolved, Celebrating Black History, and Some Good Points for Uncertainty

To continue the medical news from the last blog, the doctors have decided NOT to do a second course of radiation at this time, basically because I am not sick enough. So this is good news. After a thorough review, the radiologist explained that it is less safe to do a second course of radiation than a first treatment, and they will never do a third course. So at this time, when I am asymptomatic (eating well, talking, no pain, no weight loss), and the tumour has only begun growing slightly, they want to hold radiation in reserve (in case things get worse) and continue with chemotherapy. It was a relief for me to have a decision, one way or another. I am still only on one chemo drug, an IV every 3 weeks; my oncologist may decide to put me back on chemo pills that I was taking at home for 2 weeks after each IV. The pills had some side-effects, but I can live with those if they help reduce the tumour.

Now, to more general issues. In my last blog, listing the holidays and events in February, I forgot to mention two very important ones: Black History Month in Canada, and the Lunar New Year, this year The Year of the Ox. I apologize for these omissions. Here is a quote from the Canadian government’s heritage website about the origins of Black History Month, a time for “celebrating resilience, innovation, and determination to work towards a more inclusive and diverse Canada—a Canada in which everyone has every opportunity to flourish.” This is especially important this year, as in both Canada and the U.S. we recognize the ongoing existence, and the dangers, of systemic racism.

In 1978, the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS) was established. Its founders, including Dr. Daniel G. Hill and Wilson O. Brooks, presented a petition to the City of Toronto to have February formally proclaimed as Black History Month. In 1979, the first-ever Canadian proclamation was issued by Toronto. The first Black History Month in Nova Scotia was observed in 1988 and later renamed African Heritage Month in 1996. In 1993, the OBHS successfully filed a petition in Ontario to proclaim February as Black History Month. Following that success, Rosemary Sadlier, president of the OBHS, introduced the idea of having Black History Month recognized across Canada to the Honourable Jean Augustine, the first Black Canadian woman elected to Parliament. In December 1995, the House of Commons officially recognized February as Black History Month in Canada following a motion introduced by Dr. Augustine. The House of Commons carried the motion unanimously. In February 2008, Senator Donald Oliver, the first Black man appointed to the Senate, introduced the Motion to Recognize Contributions of Black Canadians and February as Black History Month. It received unanimous approval and was adopted on March 4, 2008. The adoption of this motion completed Canada’s parliamentary position on Black History Month. (https://www.canada.ca/en/canadian-heritage/campaigns/black-history-month/about.html).

And here is a link to a poem written and read by a 13-year-old girl in Nova Scotia, Damini Awoyiga, whom I met online after hearing that she made masks to sell, and then discovered she is also a fine poet. https://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1850248771603

Recognizing the Lunar New Year also acknowledges and celebrates Canada’s Chinese population, who have also made great contributions to this country. The year of the ox, as I understand it, represents hard work and responsibility.

Finally, a brief word about the value of uncertainty. As humans, we tend to want certainty, though we know that the world is uncertain, in both large and small ways. Physicists tell us this: Heisenberg’s “uncertainty principle” says that we can know where something is OR how fast it is moving, but not both at once. And Erwin Schrodinger wrote that the universe is made up of everything we know — and everything else. Indigenous writer Richard Wagamese echoes this: “The truest statement in the world is ‘you never know.’ There is always something to evoke wonder, to wonder about, because this world, this life, this universe is more than the sum of its parts.” (Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations, p. 99. Physicist Carlo Rovelli, who is also a student of poetry and the classics, tells us that being open to uncertainty allows us to be open to possibility, to innovation, to creativity; to build on the thoughts and ideas of those who have come before, but to criticize those ideas (without condemning them as evil) in ways that let our knowledge and understanding of the world grow and develop, and let us deal with new situations and information, without being tied to traditions and beliefs. (Carlo Rovelli, The First Scientist: Anaximander and His Legacy.). And Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Knowing this can be freeing, not frightening, and give us a more realistic sense of being in the world. Good things to keep in mind. And we can keep the certainty of closeness to the people in our lives (despite changing circumstances), the joys of nature and art, the steadiness of breathing in and out.

About Ellen

I am a member of The Writers Union of Canada, the League of Canadian Poets, and CANSCAIP. I have received grants from the Ontario Arts Council for both writing and teaching. I currently work with Learning Through the Arts and Living through the Arts, programmes run by the Royal Conservatory of Music that enable artists to work in schools and community organizations. I have also taught in many other school and community programs, and have been a judge for various writing contests for both young people and adults.
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